W.L. Clowes on the 1854-56 Russian ("Crimean") War (2/4)
On yet two other scenes of action there were operations of some importance during the summer of 1854.
Almost immediately after the outbreak of war, Captain Erasmus Ommanney, in the Eurydice, 26, was despatched to the White Sea, with the Miranda, 14, screw, Captain Edmund Moubray Lyons, and the Brisk, 14, screw, Commander Frederick Beauchamp Paget Seymour. The object in view was a blockade of the Russian ports; but, in order as much as possible to spare British and French property in neutral bottoms, the blockade was not regularly enforced until August 1st. In the meantime, however, several Russian merchantmen were captured, and a certain amount of damage was done. Archangel was considered to be too strong for attack by so small a force; but on July 18th, while the Miranda and Brisk were rounding Solovetskoi Island, it was perceived that troops with artillery were stationed in the woods there. A shot was fired to dislodge them, and they returned it. At midnight the vessels anchored off Solovetskoi monastery, where next morning it was seen that the enemy was throwing up batteries. After unavailing negotiations, the ships weighed at 8.20 A.M., and soon afterwards opened fire. A smart action followed, the Russians replying from a battery, from two towers of the monastery, and, with small-arms, from the beach. By 11.20 A.M. the enemy began to desert his positions; but he returned later, only to be again driven away. Fire, however, continued until 6 P.M., by which time red-hot shot, shell, and musketry had silenced all opposition. The British loss appears to have been but one killed and one wounded. On July 31st a landing was effected on Shayley island, where the public buildings were burnt, and nine guns were taken or destroyed.
On August 23rd, Master George Williams, of the Miranda, buoyed the passage up to Kola; and Lyons then took his ship off the town, and anchored her at 6.30 A.M. in five fathoms. The place, in spite of its lonely and remote situation, was fortified, and contained large storehouses. Lieutenant Cecil William Buckley, under a flag of truce, went to demand a surrender; and very early on the 24th, no answer having been returned, the Miranda opened fire, the Russians briskly replying.
"The guns," says Lyons in his dispatch, "were shortly dismounted, and the battery reduced to ruins; but, although our shells burst well into the loopholed houses and stockades, an obstinate fire of musketry was kept up from various parts of the town. This allowed me no alternative; and I was obliged to destroy it. It was soon in flames from our shell and red-hot shot, and burned furiously, being fanned by a fresh breeze. The ship, at this time, became critically situated. The violence of the tide caused her to drag the bower and stream anchors, and the two kedges laid out to spring her broadside; and, the passage being too narrow for her to swing, she grounded at less than three hundred yards from the burning town, fragments from which were blown on board. However, by keeping the sails, rigging and decks well wetted until the ship was hove off, no bad consequences ensued."
During part of the action, a landing-party under Lieutenant John Francis Campbell Mackenzie, and actg. Mate Charles William Manthorp, rendered admirable service on shore. By 7.30 A.M. on the 24th, the work of destruction was complete. In the early autumn the squadron returned to England.
In the China and Japan seas, at the beginning of the war, the Russian Rear-Admiral Poutiatin had under his orders the Pallas, 60, Aurora, 44, and Dwina, 12. The British force on the station was under Rear-Admiral David Price, and consisted of the President, 50 (flag), Captain Richard Burridge, Pique, 40, Captain Sir Frederick William Erskine Nicolson, Bart., Amphitrite, 24, Captain Charles Frederick, Trincomalee, 24, Captain Wallace Houstoun, and Virago, 6, paddle, Commander Edward Marshall. The French Rear-Admiral Febvrier-Despointes had at his disposal the Forte, 60 (flag), Eurydice, 30, Artémise, 30, and Obligado, 18. Poutiatin was, of course, helpless at sea against such a force; and therefore he sent the Pallas far up the river Amur, and utilised her people in reinforcing the weak garrisons on the littoral. The Aurora and Dwina took refuge in Petropaulovski, on the peninsula of Kamtchatka, a post against which it was foreseen that the allies would probably attempt operations.
Price and Febvrier-Despointes, after having detached the Amphitrite, Artémise, and Trincomalee to cruise for the protection of trade off the coasts of California, went in search of the Russians, and, on August 28th, sighted the shores of Kamtchatka. On the following day they entered Avalska Bay, at the head of which lies Petropaulovski. The Russians had worked very energetically at the defences of the roadstead. They had supplemented the pre-existing fort with numerous well-placed works, and had stationed the Aurora behind a sand spit, where she could not be reached so long as the batteries remained unreduced (on the spit was an 11-gun battery). Yet, although the position was immensely and obviously formidable, the allied commanders underrated its strength. Their appearance was received with shots from the defences; and they returned the fire, but from too great a distance for it to be effective. On August 30th, they drew nearer in, and were beginning action, when Price, an officer too old, perhaps, for his work, but with a distinguished record, lost his head in the most unaccountable way, and, retiring to his cabin, shot himself. The direction of the British contingent devolved upon Nicolson; but the shocking event naturally led to the suspension of operations until the following morning, when the attack was resumed. On the 31st, at 8 A.M. the President, Pique, and Forte took up positions and opened fire on the nearest of the defences - three batteries mounting respectively three, five, and eleven guns. With the assistance of a landing-party from the Virago, the 3-gun battery, on the right, was silenced, its pieces were spiked, and the gun-carriages and platforms were destroyed; but, upon the Aurora disembarking 200 men to retake the battery, the Virago's party was withdrawn to the sloop. Later in the day the five-gun and the eleven-gun battery were silenced; but, in the night, the works were all repaired.
On September 2nd the body of Rear-Admiral Price was taken in the Virago to Tarinski Bay for burial. During her absence, the sloop picked up three American seamen, deserters from whalers. These men volunteered certain information - whether deliberately treacherous or merely mistaken will never be known - and, in consequence of this, it was decided at a council of war to attempt a landing with the object of seizing the town and taking the batteries in reverse. Accordingly, at about 8 A.M. on September 4th, a body of 700 seamen and Marines, under Captains Burridge and de La Grandiere (Eurydice), was disembarked on a low part of the peninsula, after two protecting batteries, one of five and the other of seven guns, had been silenced by the fire of the President, Forte, and Virago (while the President was thus engaged, a Russian shot killed or wounded the entire crew of one of her main-deck guns). Above the landing-place rose a wooded hill. The Russians who held it were driven back; one of the two batteries, which had been abandoned, was rendered useless; and the hill was carried, though with difficulty. But, on endeavouring to advance along the summit, which was covered with brushwood and brambles, the expeditionary force, under the guidance of one of the American deserters, became a target for Russian sharpshooters who were almost invisible, and whose fire was very deadly. There were many casualties. In heading a charge against the concealed foe, Captain Charles Allan Parker, R.M., fell dead. It was presently seen that to persist was to compromise the safety of the column; and a retreat to the shore was ordered. It was carried on in much confusion. In the course of it there were further losses, many of which were occasioned by the very rough nature of the ground over which the withdrawal had to be carried out. Ere their ships could be regained, 107 British and 101 French had been killed or wounded, among the killed being Captain Parker, R.M., and among the wounded Lieutenants Alleyne Bland, Edward Henry Howard, George Palmer, and William George Hepburn Morgan; Lieutenants (R.M.) Edward Gough M'Callum and William Henry Clements; Mate George Robinson, and Midshipman Louis Chichester. The survivors returned on board at 10.45 A.M., and the ships at once hauled out of range to attend to the wounded and to repair damages.
The unfortunate issue of this attack seems to have resulted as much from the thoughtless rashness of the gallant leaders as from their unwise confidence in the word of men who were confessedly deserters. The spot chosen for a landing was one of the worst that could have been selected, seeing that it was commanded by a hill, and that, upon occupying the hill, the landing party ceased to be covered by the fire of the ships. Nor, in all probability, would any landing have been attempted, had the allied commanders had proper information concerning the strength and dispositions of the enemy. It must, however, be added that, in spite of the difficulties in their way, both British and French behaved with great bravery.
The combined squadrons, while in the neighbourhood, captured and burnt a Russian transport, the Sitka, 10, and took a small schooner, the Avatska, laden with stores. They quitted the coast on September 7th.
All the remaining naval operations of the year 1854 took place in the Black Sea.
The disembarkation of the allied armies at Eupatoria has already been described. On September 19th, flanked by the fleets, the expeditionary corps began its march along the coast to the south ward. At 11 A.M. the greater part of the fleet anchored off the mouth of the river Alma. At about 5 o'clock the army halted on the banks of the river Bulganak in order to bivouac for the night. A strong Russian force was then known to be posted upon the left bank of the Alma; and it was determined to attack it on the following morning. An officer who was in the Rodney with the fleet off the mouth of the Alma writes:-
"On grassy heights to the southward, we saw a Russian army encamped. To the north there was a range of low hills, the two eminences being separated by an extensive plain about four miles in width, which was occupied by a large force of the enemy's artillery and cavalry, who crossed the ravine, at the foot of their position, in which ran the little river."
The Navy was able to take but very little share in the battle of the Alma, which was fought on September 20th (Lieut. Samuel Hoskins Derriman, commanding the Caradoc, was attached to Lord Raglan's staff during the action; and Lieut. Henry Carr Glyn, of the Britannia, was also present officially with the army). The ships had previously made some endeavour to shell the rear of the left of the Russian position; but the range was too great for much result to be produced. They afforded, however, great assistance, by landing parties for the succour and removal of the wounded after the action - a work which lasted for three days. Dundas detached for the purpose all the boats of the fleet, nearly all his surgeons, and 600 seamen and Royal Marines.
It would have been the desire of one at least of the allied Admirals, immediately after the battle, to proceed to the entrance of the harbour of Sebastopol, and, if possible, to force it; but the fleets formed the only base for the forces which had been landed; and it was considered undesirable to separate them from it (Dundas had this wish; Hamelin believed that the fleets could not enter until Fort Constantine should have been taken). As soon as the Russians perceived that the advance along the coast had not been checked, they took prompt measures to render the mouth of their port impassable. On the night of September 22nd, Captain Lewis Tobias Jones, C.B., of the Samson, 6, paddle, which, with the Terrible, reconnoitred the place, reported to Dundas that, outside the boom which lay between Fort Constantine and Fort Alexander, the enemy had moored five ships of the line and two frigates. These appeared to be connected with one another by chains and cables, and were so disposed as not to mask the guns of the works. Between the second and third vessels, counting from the southern, or Fort Alexander, end of the line, a narrow passage was perceived to have been left for entrance or exit; and thus, although it could be seen that the whole of the Russian Black Sea fleet was still in port, it was made evident that the enemy had not entirely relinquished the idea of making a sally. The intention probably was to take advantage of any opportunity that might offer for attempting a dash at some of the numerous isolated craft which were still moving daily between Varna and the Crimea.
On September 23rd, however, when the armies, flanked by the fleets, resumed their advance to the southward, the enemy took a step which indicated that, in spite of the guns of Constantine and of Alexander, and the broadsides of the ships near the boom, he feared that his harbour might be penetrated. He sank all seven of the vessels in the channel. The step was, upon the whole, a sound one. By blocking the entrance as he did, he not only freed himself from all anxiety concerning the issue of a sudden attack from seaward, but also released for the general purposes of the defence about 15,000 seamen, including many good gunners, while, at the same time, he gained, for the armament of the new land forts which he was erecting, an almost unlimited supply of heavy guns. Later, the allies themselves might, no doubt, have sunk the ships near the boom, had they so desired; but to sink them there would, of course, have blocked the passage as effectually as the Russians themselves blocked it. They would hardly, therefore, have risked loss in the effort. To gain a real success at the mouth of the harbour, the allies would have been obliged to capture the ships near the boom, and, instead of sinking them there, to tow them clear of the passage.
Such an operation, looking to the formidable nature of the covering forts, would scarcely have been attempted; but, so long as the vessels remained afloat, there was a bare possibility that it might be. Had it succeeded, the defensibility of Sebastopol would have been seriously impaired. The Russians, therefore, did wisely in rendering it impossible.
It had been decided by the generals at Varna to attack Sebastopol, in the first instance, from the north, and to land the necessary siege-train and supplies at the mouth of the Katcha; but it was soon found that the fire of the advanced Russian works on the north covered the ground as far as the Belbek river, only five miles south of the Katcha; and that a great disembarkation of exceedingly weighty material within so short a distance of the Russian guns would be a strategical mistake. It was therefore determined to attack Sebastopol, in the first instance, from the south; and, soon after leaving the field of the Alma, the generals struck off to the eastward in order to make the necessary turning movement. At 2 A.M. on the 24th, a message from Lord Raglan reached Dundas, who was then off the mouth of the Katcha, to the effect that the armies were about to march round the head of the harbour to the southern side of the town; and it was requested that he would detach a squadron to take possession of Balaclava, which was to be the point of disembarkation for the train and stores. Dundas at once sent off Sir Edmund Lyons, with a division of steamers, to make the desired seizure. It was at this time that Saint-Arnaud was obliged to give way to the illness from which he had long suffered, and to resign his command to General Canrobert (Saint-Arnaud died on Sept. 29th, 1854, in his fifty-third year).
Lyons made for Balaclava; and it was taken possession of without much difficulty, as the troops drew near it from the northeast on the 26th (this timely co-operation of the Navy with the Army was facilitated by the activity and enterprise of Lieut. Frederick Augustus Maxse, of the Agamemnon, who, having reached Raglan's camp on the Tchernaya on the night of the 25th with dispatches, volunteered to return at once to Lyons in the dark through a hostile country). The small deep bay was almost immediately filled with British transports; and when the French Rear-Admiral Charner, in the Napoléon, endeavoured to find an anchorage for his huge flag-ship and her convoy, he had great difficulty in doing so. It was at once seen that Balaclava harbour would not be roomy enough to serve as base for both armies. Moreover, it was at an inconvenient distance from the positions which had been assigned in the scheme of attack to the troops of France. A French base was, therefore, sought, and found in Kamiesh Bay, close to Cape Chersonese. Ere the end of the month much siege material had been put ashore both at Balaclava and at Kamiesh; and, on September 28th, impressed with the inadequacy of the armies for the work in hand, and relieved from much of his anxiety by the manner in which the Russians had destroyed seven of their ships, Dundas, who, with Hamelin and the bulk of both fleets, remained off the Katcha, issued an order for the formation of a naval brigade to serve ashore in the batteries. It was directed that each large ship should contribute 200 officers and men, and a contingent of lower-deck or other principal guns; and that the other war vessels should contribute in proportion. Each ship of the line sent ashore all her Marines, except a few who remained for sentry-duty, and all her best seamen-gunners, together with deck-awnings, spare canvas, spars, and half her ammunition. In all, 2400 seamen, 2000 Royal Marines, and 50 shipwrights, with 65 officers, and about 140 guns, were landed, the command being entrusted to Captain Stephen Lushington, of the Albion, 90. Among other officers of the brigade was Captain William Peel, of the Diamond, 27, whose aide-de-camp was Midshipman Evelyn Wood. The first naval camp was on a plain close to the Woronzoff Road, about two and a quarter miles from the head of the inner or Dockyard Harbour on the south side of Sebastopol. The first work of the brigade was to drag up from Balaclava guns, waggons of ammunition, and supplies, and to construct batteries and platforms for the guns. In all these labours the good humour, keenness, resourcefulness, and handiness of the seamen were so conspicuously displayed as to excite the admiration of both armies. Seldom before had the Navy had so much to do on land; and it seized the opportunity of making a new reputation for itself.
In the meantime, on October 4th, the Sidon, 22, paddle, Captain George Goldsmith, and the Inflexible, 6, paddle, Commander George Otway Popplewell, created a diversion in another part of the Black Sea by making an attack on Fort Nicolaieff; and, on November 12th, the Tribune, 31, screw, Captain the Hon. Swinfen Thomas Carnegie, Highflyer, 21, screw, Captain John Moore, and Lynx, 4, screw, supported a landing-party which destroyed a martello tower at Djemetil, near Anapa.
The cholera was not so prevalent in September and October as it had been earlier in the year in the Dobrudscha, and off Varna; but at Balaclava, afloat as well as ashore, it still caused much mortality; and, unfortunately, this was in great part due to the almost total neglect of sanitary precautions, and to the great discomfort which existed among the troops, owing to the indifferent commissariat arrangements. The defective organisation was to some extent remedied as the campaign went on; but few of the many much-needed reforms were effected until after the severe winter of 1854-5 had almost decimated the army. It had not been expected that Sebastopol would hold out for long; and no adequate provision whatsoever had been made for the prosecution of one of the most arduous and protracted sieges of modern times.
While preparations were being made for the opening of the attack on Sebastopol, there happened an affair which, though in itself trifling, was not without indirect importance, seeing that it was generally interpreted in the allied fleets as a proof of the defective character of Russian gunnery. On October 11th, an Austrian ship, laden with hay for the use of the British army, and bound from the mouth of the Katcha for Balaclava, was carried by the current so close to the entrance of Sebastopol harbour that, in order to avoid going ashore there, she was obliged to pass under the fire of the forts at a distance of not more than 1500 yards. The crew, believing that their craft must inevitably be sunk, took to the boats, and escaped, as soon as Fort Constantine opened. Presently the ship was subjected to a perfect hail of shot; but, although it is said that between 400 and 500 projectiles were aimed at her, she was struck by only four; and they did little damage. The Beagle, 4, screw, supported by the Firebrand, 6, paddle, Captain William Houston Stewart, approached the vessel as if to tow her out; whereupon the Russian fire waxed hotter than ever. The Firebrand was struck, and she and the Beagle, temporarily commanded by Second Master Alexander Fraser Boxer, did not then persist; but, some hours later, after the Austrian had gently grounded on the shore of Chersonese Bay, Captain Lewis Tobias Jones, in the Samson, with the Firebrand, Beagle, and French launches, towed her out in safety. While ashore, she was guarded by a detachment of French seamen from Kamiesh.
The construction and arming of the first siege batteries occupied a fortnight; and it was not until October 16th that they were ready.
Vice-Admiral Dundas in the interim had employed some of his steam-vessels in throwing shells at long range into several of the Russian works along the shore; but such desultory attacks had been discontinued at the request of Lord Raglan, who believed that they disquieted the army. Dundas had also sent the Leander, 50, Captain George St. Vincent King, to Eupatoria to assist in the defence of that town. Later he sent thither as well the Firebrand, and the Vesuvius, with other vessels.
On October 15th, Vice-Admirals Dundas and Hamelin, and the Ottoman naval commander, Achmet Pacha, met on board the Mogador, where Hamelin had temporarily hoisted his flag, to concert measures, in response to the "urgent request" of the allied generals, for the co-operation of the fleets in the opening bombardment. Dundas was unwilling to give this co-operation. He would gladly enough have met a hostile fleet; but he was strongly of opinion that it was not the business of wooden walls to pit themselves against stone ones.
"A naval attack," says Brereton, who, as Dundas's guest at the time, had the best opportunity for knowing the Vice-Admiral's views, "must be restricted to engaging the forts at either side of the harbour. These works are of solid freestone in large blocks; and on them were mounted guns of heavy calibre, firing from casemated tiers of batteries, and batteries en barbette upon their summits. Moreover, they were flanked by detached works so placed as to support the stone forts. If the fleets could be expected to damage them, the reciprocal action of the batteries defending the entrance of the harbour might fairly be expected to disable the ships, sinking or destroying all, or a great number. A large and still effective Russian fleet was within the harbour. In the event of the disaster adverted to as possible, if not probable, what would be the fate of the army, should the enemy consequently become masters of the sea, and be enabled to cut of the transports daily bringing provisions to the land forces? As regarded the English Admiral, he could not fail to recollect how materially his strength had been diminished by the aid given to the English army, amounting to one-third of his crews, and one-half of his service ammunition."
Chevalier, who may be assumed to reflect the views of Hamelin, says:- "Admiral Hamelin probably shared the opinion of his colleague; but, looking to the situation in which the army was placed, and especially to the inferiority of its artillery as compared with that of the enemy, he considered that the navy, leaving ordinary rules aside, ought to neglect nothing which might facilitate the task of the troops. The Admiral also believed that, in taking such a course, he would be acting in conformity with the wishes of his officers and men. ... The navy, which had not yet found occasion to take part in any warlike action of great importance, was animated by a lively desire to have a fighting share in the success of the expedition. The entrance to the port of Sebastopol was impassable: the action of the navy was necessarily limited; it could have no other object than to cannonade the works facing the sea; and that operation would not bring about a decisive result; but it would act as a diversion; and it would oblige the enemy to man his sea, batteries, and so reduce the number of artillerymen available for the manning of the works facing landwards."
In short, while Dundas's unwillingness was dictated mainly by reason and prudence, Hamelin's willingness arose mainly from a deliberate determination to sacrifice prudential considerations to considerations of general tactical policy and of glory. But the appeal from the military commanders was so pressing that Dundas gave way. It was decided that the ships should be kept in movement, delivering their fire successively; and that those not in action should form a reserve. All details of the attack were discussed and decided; and, on returning to his flagship, Dundas summoned his Captains to assemble in the Britannia, on the morning of the 16th, to receive their final instructions. After he had given the instructions, he naturally supposed that all might be considered as definitively arranged; but, says Brereton- "Not so; for at midnight of the same day, October 16th, Admiral Dundas received a visit from Admiral Hamelin, who, to the astonishment of the former, stated that he had been directed by General Canrobert, at whose disposal he was, to alter the plan of attack entirely, the new arrangement being that his liue-of-battle ships were to anchor across the mouth of the harbour, and, from that position, to bombard the batteries. The English Admiral was requested to make a similar disposition of his squadron. Admiral Dundas at once expressed his dissent from the proposed new arrangement, strongly urged that the one so fully decided upon should be adhered to, and gave way only upon its being represented that the French Admiral was absolutely under the-control of the military commander-in-chief, that in any case he must comply with the orders of that officer, and that the question resolved itself into whether he was to do so without the co-operation of the English fleet. There was but one answer to such, an appeal."
Chevalier indicates that one of the reasons which influenced the French in coming to the determination to engage at anchor was that the ships had lost many men by death, and many more by invaliding, and that these losses had never been made good, while, in addition, 1300 gunners and marine infantry had been landed, and guard-boats had to be manned and detached to take care of the top-gallant masts and other spars which were put overboard in preparation for action. Thus the vessels were deemed to be too short handed to be properly handled under way, or to fight both broadsides simultaneously. But Chevalier says nothing as to the sudden alteration of plans, and leaves it to be supposed that the decision to engage at anchor was the original one. As for Hamelin, he says, in his dispatch of the 18th, "On the 15th, the admirals of the allied squadrons met on board the Mogador, and the arrangements for a general attack were made by common consent, and thereupon submitted to the generals of the land army, and most readily accepted by them."
The alteration of plans obliged Dundas to hold a new and hurried conference with his Captains. Moreover, there was delay consequent upon the necessity for bringing up vessels, many of which had to be towed, some from off the Katcha, where the bulk of both fleets had remained since the day of the Alma, and others from Kamiesh and the neighbouring bay of Kazatch. Although, therefore, the land batteries began to bombard the fortress at 6.30 A.M., it was about 1.30 P.M. ere the large ships were able to join in. Until that hour only a few small craft fired independently. An act of distinguished daring was performed in the course of the night preceding the action. Masters William Thomas Mainprise (Britannia), Cornelius Thomas Augustus Noddall (London), and Charles Raguenau Pecco Forbes (Samson), in boats with muffled oars, eluded the Russian guard-boats, some of which hailed them, and took soundings close under the forts. They returned safely with very useful information.
It had been arranged among the admirals that the French should engage the works at the southern, and the British those at the northern side of the entrance to the harbour. This arrangement gave to the French ships as their object Fort Alexander, the Quarantine battery, and the adjoining works, and, to the British ships, Fort Constantine, the Telegraph batteries, and the works near them. But the majority of the ships on each side could be reached easily by the guns in the batteries on the other. Midway in the line, between the British and French fleets, but nearest to the latter, a station was assigned to the only two Turkish vessels that were able to take part. Near the centre of the channel, these vessels were the furthest removed from the forts. On the other hand, the post of honour to the northward, where the works were the most formidable, was given to the British. The French had upon the spot four steam ships of the line; and those of their vessels which had been lying at Kamiesh were much closer to the scene of action, and more readily reached it, than the British contingent, which included but two screw battleships, and most of which had to be towed from the anchorage off the Katcha. Some of the French ships, therefore, were the first to get into action; though, when they began firing, they did so at long and ineffectual ranges. Presently, however, some of them got close in, and fired at almost point-blank distance. There was no wind whatsoever. All the ships adopted the usual precautions of sending down top-gallant masts, and studding-sail booms, etc., and of binding up their yards. All spare topmasts and yards were sent on board the Vulcan. Special precautions were adopted by many.
The vessels engaged in this first bombardment of the Sebastopol forts were as follows :-
|Agamemnon, scr.||91||R.-Ad. Sir Edmund Lyons.|
Capt. Wm. Robert Mends
|Sans Pareil, scr.||70||Capt. Sidney Colpoys Dacres|
|Samson, padd.||6||Capt. Lewis Tobias Jones|
|Tribune, scr.||31||Capt. Hon. Swinfen Thomas Carnegie|
|Terrible, padd.||21||Capt. James Johnstone McCleverty|
|Sphinx, padd.||6||Capt. Arthur Parry Eardley Wilmot|
|Lynx, scr.||4||Lieut. John Proctor Luce|
|Albion||90||Com. Hy. Downing Rogers+|
|Firebrand, padd., 6||Capt. Wm. Houston Stewart|
|London||90||Capt. Chas. Eden|
|Niger, scr., 14||Com. Leopold George Heath|
|Arethusa||50||Capt. Thomas Matthew Charles Symonds|
|Triton, padd., 3||Lieut. Hy. Lloyd|
|Queen||116||Capt. Frederick Thomas Michell|
|Vesuvius, padd., 6||Com. Richard Ashmore Powell|
|Britannia||120||V.-Ad. James Whitley Deans Dundas, C.B.|
R.-Ad. Hon. Montagu Stopford, Capt. of the Fleet
Capt. Thomas Wren
|Furious, padd., 16||Capt. William Loring|
|Trafalgar||120||Capt. Henry Francis Greville|
|Retribution, padd., 28||Capt. Hon. Jas. Robt. Drummond|
|Vengeance||84||Capt. Lord Edward Russell|
|Highflyer, scr., 21||Capt. John Moore|
|Rodney||90||Capt. Chas. Graham|
|Spiteful, padd., 6||Com. Augustus Frederick Kynaston|
|Bellerophon||78||Capt. Lord George Paulet|
|Cyclops, padd., 6||Mast. Robert Wilson Roberts|
|Circassian, padd.||Actg. Sec. Mast. Edward Codrington Ball|
|Spitfire, padd., 6||Com. Thos. Abel Bremage Spratt|
|Charlemagne, scr.||90||Capt. de Chabannes|
|Montebello, scr.||120||V.-Ad. Bruat|
|Vauban, 20||Capt. d'Herbinghem|
|Ville de Paris||120||V.-Ad. Hamelin|
Capt. Dompierre d'Hornoy
|Primauguet, 8||Capt. Reynaud|
|Descartes, 20||Capt. Darricau|
|Henri IV||100||Capt. Jehenne|
|Canada, 14||Capt. Massin|
|Napoléon, scr.||92||R.-Ad. Charner|
|Alger||80||Capt. de Saisset|
|Magellan, 14||Capt. Kerdrain|
|Labrador, 14||Capt. de Varèse|
|Ville de Marseille||80||Capt. Laffon-Ladébat|
|Panama, 14||Capt. Goubin|
|Suffren||90||Capt. Fabre Lamaurelle|
|Albatros, 14||Capt. Dubernad|
|Ulloa, 14||Capt. Baudais|
|Chr. Colomb, 14||Capt. Chevalier|
|Jean Bart, scr.||90||Capt. Touchard|
|Besides two Turkish ships of the line.|
Note: the large vessels bracketed with smaller ones were towed by, or coupled broadside to, the latter
[the vessels shown here with yellow background were coupled to the vessels shown thereabove]
+ In absence of Captain Lushington, commanding Naval Brigade before Sebastopol.
Note: owing to circumstances, the Queen's actual position was that originally assigned to the Bellerophon, and the Rodney's was that originally assigned to the Queen. Such was the arrangement at 1.30 P.M.
|TOTAL||Of which could be|
trained on the ships
|1)The Russian poud equals 36.11 lbs. avoird. The 3-poud shell gun threw, therefore, a projectile weighing about 108 lbs., and the 5-poud mortar a projectile weighing about 180 lbs. The 1-poud (36-pr.) and ½-poud (18 pr.) pieces were howitzers|
A correspondent of the Times, writing on the 18th, said:- "Yesterday morning, about daybreak, the English and French opened fire from their batteries on the south side of Sebastopol. ... The paddle-wheel and screw frigates lashed themselves alongside the sailing line-of-battle ships, and all was got ready for the fight. The French were to occupy the right as you enter the harbour - that is, the southern side - and the English, the left, or northern side, in one line, about 1500 yards off. The French got into their places about half-past twelve o'clock, and immediately commenced a heavy fire, which was vigorously returned from the batteries. The distance, however, was certainly greater than originally contemplated, and, as far as I can ascertain, it was over 2000 yards. By degrees the English ships successively took up their stations, passing in rear of the French, and anchoring to the left. The Agamemnon, Sans Pareil, and London ... however, took an inside station in advance - perhaps about 1000 yards from Fort Constantine. Nothing could be more noble than the gallant way in which the Agamemnon and Sans Pareil steamed in amid a perfect hail of cannon-balls and shells, preceded by a little tug-steamer, the Circassian, commanded by Mr. Ball. This little bit of a cockleshell, which looked as if she might have been arrested by a fowling-piece, deliberately felt the way for the large ships till her services were no longer required.
"The firing soon became terrific. At the distance of six miles the sustained sound resembled that of a locomotive at full speed, but, of course, the roar was infinitely grander. The day was a dead calm, so that the smoke hung heavily about both ships and batteries, and frequently prevented either side from seeing anything. From about two till dark (nearly six) the cannonade raged most furiously.
"Towards four o'clock, Fort Constantine, as well as some of the smaller batteries, slackened somewhat in their fire; but towards dusk, as some of the ships began to haul out, the Russians returned to their guns, and the fire seemed as fierce as ever. There was one explosion just behind Fort Constantine, which appeared to do much damage. At dark, all the ships returned to their anchorage. The change was magical from a hot sun, mist, smoke, explosions, shot, shell, rockets, and the roar of ten thousand guns, to a still, cool, brilliant, starlit sky, looking down upon a glassy sea, reflecting in long tremulous lines the lights at the mast-heads of the ships returning amid profound silence."
Another correspondent (writing to the Morning Herald) writing a little later, thus describes the slight effect produced:- "We passed close by the forts of Sebastopol. We were quite within range (though the enemy never attempted to fire), and therefore with our glasses we could see every chink and cranny in the fortresses, which we had ample time to survey. Every fort towards the sea - those of Alexander, and Paul on the south side, and Nicholas, and Constantine on the north - was perfectly covered from the base to the summit with shot marks. In this there was no difference between those attacked by the English or French, except that Fort Constantine, to the north, had two of the casemated ports knocked into one. It was at the spot where the Agamemnon had been moored, and where her whole broadside had been concentrated with something like effect. As far as we could judge, it seemed that the amount of damage done to the batteries is literally and truly nothing. Where several shots have struck in the same place, the granite is splintered and broken away to the depth of about a foot, or even less. Where only one or two balls have struck, there are mere whitish marks, as if the spot had been dabbed with flour.
"To restore these forts to their original look would, of course, be expensive, because unnecessary. As forts, they are as strong as if a shot had never been fired against them. A very small amount of money would repair the actual damage done to the cornices below the embrasures. The spots on the walls below the embrasures are not worth notice, for a few inches of stone make little difference in a fort where the walls are fourteen, and in some parts eighteen feet thick. ... Owing to the shallowness of the water, no vessel, French or English, was enabled to approach nearer than 750 yards. The great majority ... were 1000 and 1200 yards off."
The position of the Russian batteries on the north and south sides of the harbour-mouth is indicated in the plan on p. 441. The armament of the principal works is there also set forth.
Vice-Admiral Dundas's dispatch concerning the engagement is very meagre. It declares briefly that the Agamemnon, Sans Pareil, Samson, Tribune, Sphinx, and Lynx, and the Albion, London, and Arethusa, towed respectively by the Firebrand, Niger, and Triton, "engaged Fort Constantine and the batteries to the northward"; and that the other sailing ships, with a steamer lashed on the port side of each, "gradually took up their positions, as nearly as possible as marked on the plan" appended to the letter; that the action lasted from about half-past one to half-past six P.M.; that the British ships had lost 44 killed and 266 wounded; and that - "The ships, masts, yards, and rigging are more or less damaged, principally by shells and hot shot. The Albion has suffered much in hull and masts; the Rodney in her masts, she having tailed on the reef, from which she was got off by the great exertions of Commander Kynaston, of the Spiteful, whose crew and vessel were necessarily exposed in performing this action; but, with the exception of the Albion and Arethusa, which ships I send to Constantinople to be repaired, I hope to be able to make my squadron serviceable in twenty-four hours."
The dispatch also praises the ability and zeal of Rear-Admirals Sir Edmund Lyons, and the Hon. Montagu Stopford, and of the officers and men engaged, and bears witness to the gallantry and skill of the French, and to the manner in which Achmet Pacha did his duty. It appears from the other dispatches, from the logs, and from independent accounts which have been consulted, that the signal to weigh was made to the British squadron at 10.50 A.M., and that the Agamemnon, followed by the Sans Pareil, led in. At 1.30 P.M., the Agamemnon, then closing the land, opened fire from her large pivot gun upon the Wasp battery, which at once returned it, and which was presently joined by Fort Constantine. At 2 P.M. she anchored head and stern in four and three-quarter fathoms, about 750 yards from Fort Constantine, upon which her broadside was turned. Five minutes later, the Sans Pareil and the London anchored astern of her, and hotly engaged the Star Fort, and smaller works upon the heights. At 2.20 P.M., the Albion anchored, and took off some of the fire of the Wasp battery, subsequently tackling Port Constantine. The Britannia, then about 2000 yards from the forts, and in fifteen fathoms, began action at nearly the same time; and the bombardment then soon became general. The smaller steamers, and especially the Terrible and the Samson, placed themselves inshore of the ships of the line, and behaved most gallantly. The Arethusa, having had her rigging cut to pieces, many shot in her hull, and 23 persons (including 5 of the Triton's, who were helping to serve her guns) killed and wounded, was presently towed off by her attendant. The Albion, also, with 11 killed and 71 wounded, was obliged to haul out of the fight, very badly mauled (she was thrice set on fire, and would probably have gone ashore, but for the efforts of the tugs). Nearly at the same moment the London, with 4 killed and 18 wounded, retired. Lyons, however, in the Agamemnon, though more exposed than any other officer, did not move. At one time his second, the Sans Pareil, withdrew in consequence of having expended all the ammunition which it had been decided to use on the occasion; but he called up the Belleropheron to support him (she was ultimately the closest ship in, and succeeded in silencing Wasp battery; Lyons signalled to her, "Well done, Bellerophon"), and sent to bring back the Sans Pareil, fighting on, and declaring, "I'm damned if I'll leave this". The Agamemnon had only 4 killed and 25 wounded; but, owing to her nearness to the forts, she suffered far more aloft than in her hull. She was twice on fire; and, from first to last, she was hit 240 times. The Rodney, for the reason mentioned in Dundas's dispatch, suffered still more severely aloft. The Britannia, Trafalgar, Queen, and Vengeance were much less injured (the Queen, however, caught fire, as did also the Britannia, which last received over seventy shots in her hull). The last ship, the Bellerophon, hauled off at 7 o'clock, with 5 killed and 16 wounded.
Among the killed in the British squadron were Lieutenant Parkhurst Chase (Albion), and Midshipmen Charles Madden (Sans Pareil), and -----Forster (Bellerophon). Among the officers wounded were Captain William Houston Stewart (Firebrand), Commander Augustus Frederick Kynaston (Spiteful), Lieutenants Francis Reginald Purvis (Spiteful), James Bull, and Warren Hastings Anderson (Sans Pareil), Charles Edward Stevens (Albion), James William Vaughan (Britannia), and Thomas Lovette Gaussen (Agamemnon), and Master Henry Paul, Surgeon Richard Denton Mason, and Paymaster Charles Augustus Thorne (all of Albion). The French had 212 people killed and wounded: the Turks, but one or two men hurt. The Russians admitted a loss during the day of 1100 men, among the killed being the gallant Admiral Korniloff, who had been the chief organiser of the defence of the fortress (a French officer, who had previously been taken prisoner, escaped, reporting that the Russians had lost 5000 killed, besides the wounded)
CAPTAIN SIR WILLIAM PEEL, K.C.B., V.C.
From a lithograph by J. H. Lynch, after a photograph by Mrs. Verschoyle.
In the meantime, the Naval Brigade ashore did excellent service. Up to October 20th, it lost 12 killed and 53 wounded (among those killed were Lieuts. Cavendish Bradstreet Hore Ruthven (London), and George Herbert Harris Groathed (Britannia); and, among the wounded, Capt. William Mooorsom (Firebrand), Lieuts. John Norris Norman (Trafalgar), and Alfred Mitchell (Diamond), and Mate Thomas Thelwall Bullock (actg.) (Trafalgar)). It took part in the bombardment with some naval 32-prs., a few 68's from the Terrible, a couple of 13-inch mortars, and half a dozen Lancaster guns (including two from the Beagle), and it also worked some of the 24-prs. of the military siege train, until those guns were disabled. On October 18th, Captain William Peel seized a live shell which, with burning fuse, fell in his battery, and flung it over the parapet. It burst before it touched the ground outside. At Lord Raglan's desire, Dundas reinforced the Brigade, after the bombardment, with 410 officers and seamen, and placed Commander Lord John Hay, of the Wasp, 14, screw, under the orders of Captain Lushington. At Eupatoria, Captain Brock, supported by the Leander, 50, Captain George St. Vincent King, the Megaera, 6, screw, Commander John Ormsby Johnson, and other vessels, held his own, though threatened, and occasionally attacked, by large bodies of cavalry, with guns (in repelling one of these attacks, Lieut. William Henry Pym (Firebrand), and Mids. Lord Edward Henry Cecil (Leander) distinguished themselves). The Sidon, 22, paddle, Captain George Goldsmith, and Inflexible, 6, paddle, Commander George Otway Popplewell, with the French vessels Cacique and Caton, remained in Odessa Bay, to prevent the Russians there from communicating by sea with the Crimea.
The famous cavalry action at Balaclava was fought on October 25th. On the following day the Russians made a determined sortie against the division of General Sir de Lacy Evans. Their advance threatened the right Lancaster Battery, which was held by actg. Mate William Nathan Wrighte Hewett, of the Beagle, and a party of seamen; and at 300 yards they poured a hot musketry fire into the work. Owing to some error, word was passed to spike the gun and to retreat. Hewett, doubting whether the order came from Captain Lushington, commanding the Brigade, not only stuck to his post, but also, aided by his men and by some soldiers, slewed his gun round in the direction of the enemy on his flank, blew away the parapet of the battery, and opened a fire which materially assisted in obliging the Russians to retreat. Hewett was at once made actg. Lieutenant, and was afterwards officially promoted as from the day of his brave action. Later, he was given the Victoria Cross.
SIR WILLIAM NATHAN WRIGHTE HEWETT, K.C.B., V.C., VICE-ADMIRAL.
Born 1834; died 1888.
On November 7th, Vice-Admiral Dundas proposed to Vice-Admiral Hamelin to destroy the remaining storehouses and magazines at Odessa; and preparations were being made to that end when a dispatch from England arrived, directing the naval Commander-in-Chief not to undertake any operations against the enemy without the concurrence of Lord Raglan; while on the same day Raglan and Canrobert decided "that the presence of steam war-vessels for the purpose of bombarding Odessa would, under existing circumstances, be much more disadvantageous than useful." A project of Dundas's for the occupation of Kertch was put forward at about the same time; but could not be carried out owing to the inability of the Generals to spare the necessary troops for the operation. On the other hand, Dundas was urged from home to send some of his steamers to the eastern extremity of the Gulf of Perekop so that their guns, by sweeping the western side of the isthmus of that name, might interfere with the passage of troops and supplies into the Crimea by that route. The Vice-Admiral knew that this plan was impracticable; but, to satisfy the Admiralty, he detached the Spitfire, 5, paddle, Commander Thomas Abel Bremage Spratt, to take soundings near the head of the Gulf. Spratt, who returned on December 13th, reported that the Spitfire, though only a small sloop, could not approach the shore within twenty miles, and that even her boats could not approach it within four miles. He also reported that thirty miles east of the isthmus there was a bridge across a narrow part of Lake Sivatch; and that across the bridge, not across the isthmus, lay the chief military road between Kherson and Simpheropol.
Towards noon, on December 6th, some excitement was caused by the sudden sortie from Sebastopol of the steam frigate Vladimir, and the steam corvette Chersonese. They came out by the passage which had been left through the line of sunken ships, and headed at great speed to the W.S.W., firing at the batteries on the extreme left of the French attack, and at the French look-out vessel Mégère. The latter was presently reinforced by the French dispatch-vessel Dauphin, and by the Valorous, 16, paddle, Captain Claude Henry Mason Buckle; and, before those craft, the Russians turned and withdrew, after having made what was, no doubt, a useful reconnaissance.
There were no other naval movements of importance during the year 1854. On December 22nd, his three years' period of command having nearly expired, Dundas hauled down his flag as Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, and was succeeded by Sir Edmund Lyons, whose place as second was taken by Rear-Admiral Edward Boxer, C.B. At about the same time Vice-Admiral Hamelin was succeeded by Vice-Admiral Bruat.
One unfortunate occurrence which signalised the conclusion of Vice-Admiral Dundas's command remains to be chronicled. On November 14th, 1854, a hurricane of almost unexampled violence devastated the coasts of the Crimea. In the morning the sky was clear and the sea calm, with a light land wind blowing; but the barometer stood at 29.50. Part of the fleet still lay off the Katcha River. In Balaclava Bay, in spite of the meteorological conditions, no special measures of precaution were taken, except that the Agamemnon moved out. By 10 A.M. the storm, a furious blast from the S.W., was in full play. In quick succession the transports Progress, Resolute, Wanderer, Kenilworth, Prince, screw, Rip van Winkle, and other vessels, to the number of thirty-four, were lost, chiefly off Balaclava, many of their people perishing. With the Prince, which had on board immense supplies of winter clothing and hospital stores, there was lost Commander Benjamin Baynton, Admiralty Agent. The warships Vesuvius and Ardent suffered severely, but escaped being wrecked. The other warships in the bay were still more fortunate, and rode out the gale without great damage. The storm was at its worst for not much more than two hours, and the weather moderated in the afternoon, though a high sea still ran.
Off the Katcha, fourteen transports, of which five (Pyrenees, Ganges, Rodney, Tyrone, and Lord Raglan) were British, were totally lost. H.M.S. Samson fouled two of them, and carried away all her masts. The Turkish admiral lost two of his masts, and H.M.S. London was badly damaged; but comparatively few lives were sacrificed there. Off Eupatoria, where the anchorage was bad, the French line-of-battle ship Henri IV dragged her four anchors, or snapped their cables, and drove ashore. The Pluton met with the same fate (at Eupatoria were lost the British transports Her Majesty, Asia, Glendalough, Harbinger, and Georgiana). The Russians, at the height of the tempest, made an attack upon the place, but were driven off, thanks in part to the help rendered by the grounded ships, which, though almost on their beam ends and threatening to break up, gallantly opened fire. The Pluton became a total loss; but the Henri IV long remained where the waves had cast her, and was used as a fort to defend the south side of the town, while some of her guns were landed and mounted in the batteries of the place.
In the battle of Inkermann, fought on November 5th, 1854, six hundred men of the Naval Brigade were present in the field, the rest being in the batteries. The right Lancaster battery, where (actg.) Lieutenant William Nathan Wrighte Hewett commanded, on the extreme right of the left attack, and where Lancaster guns and three 68-prs. were mounted, was fiercely but vainly assaulted by the Russians. Five bluejackets, picking up the rifles of disabled soldiers, mounted the banquette, and, with extraordinary heroism and coolness, under a storm of bullets, kept up a rapid fire against the enemy, while other seamen below loaded and handed up fresh weapons. Two of these gallant fellows perished, but the survivors, Thomas Reeves, James Gorman, and Mark Scholefield, were deservedly given the Victoria Cross. Sir Edmund Lyons, who had been present at Balaclava on October 25th, was also present on shore at Inkermann. So, also, were Captain Sir William Peel, and his aide-de-camp, Midshipman Edward St. John Daniel. They joined the officers of the Grenadier Guards, and assisted in defending the colours of that regiment when they were in danger of capture at the Sandbag Battery. Both Peel and Daniel, it should be added, won the Victoria Cross; and both deserved it on more than one occasion.
After Inkermann, the British naval camp before Sebastopol was shifted to a new site about a mile and a half more to the left, on the right bank of the upper part of the long ravine leading down to the head of the Dockyard or Inner Harbour.
From February 1st, 1855, the blockade in the Black Sea was formally renewed, all Russian ports which were not occupied by the Allies being specified, or indicated, in the Gazette notice announcing the fact. Ere that time Omar Pasha, with a large Turkish army, had been transported to the Crimea, and had undertaken the military management of the defence of Eupatoria. The Russians, strange to say, delayed making any determined attack upon the place until after it had been thus strengthened; and, when they did attack, they were badly defeated.
Their great effort to capture the town began in the early morning of February 17th, 1855, and ended with their retirement at about 10.15 A.M. Omar Pasha's dispatch on the subject to Lord Raglan states that, the Turkish right and centre being specially pressed, the senior British naval officer was asked to detach the Viper to cooperate with the French steamer Véloce and the Turkish steamer Schefer on the right; that the left was well covered by the men-of-war; and that, in addition to the Viper, the Curacoa, Furious, and Valorous rendered useful service. The Valorous, from the harbour, threw her shells with great precision, and specially annoyed the Russian cavalry; the Furious landed a rocket party on the extreme right of the town; and this body of men, outflanking the assaulting column as it reached the glacis, greatly contributed to throwing it into confusion.
The Russians still held Anapa and Soujak Kaleh, on the Circassian coast of the Black Sea; and, although they were carefully watched, no attempts on a large scale were made to dislodge them. On February 20-24th, the Leopard, 18, paddle, Captain George Giffard, and boats, defeated a body of Russian troops at Anapa, captured some guns and stores, and destroyed some buildings. On March. 8th, the Viper, 4, screw, Lieutenant Charles Arthur Lodder, and a landing-party from her, destroyed a fort, barracks, and granaries at Djemetil, hard by; and on March 13th, the Leopard, and Viper, with the Highflyer, 21, screw, Captain John Moore, and Swallow, Commander Frederick Augustus Buchanan Craufurd, engaged the works at Soujak Kaleh. But sufficient force to reduce those strongholds could not then be spared from before Sebastopol.
During all that time but little real progress was made towards the reduction of the great fortress. The Russians had less valid reason than ever to fear a direct naval attack: yet they appear, while somewhat underrating the capacity of their military enemies, to have strangely overrated the powers of the allied fleets; for, says one of Raglan's dispatches, on the night of February 24th they "sank three or four more ships in the harbour, as far within the booms as the first were outside of them; and, according to the most accurate examination yesterday, there are now four barriers or impediments to the entrance of the harbour - namely, two of sunken ships, and two booms". A few days later they were reported to have sunk two additional ships. The new line of obstructions ran between Forts Michael and Nicholas.
The return in the spring of comparatively fine weather led to renewed activity on the part of the attack; and, at daybreak on April 9th, a new general bombardment of the besieged town was opened. Enormous quantities of ammunition were wasted by both sides; and the fire was kept up, with some intermissions, for twelve days, and did not wholly die out until about April 27th or 28th. Very little damage seems to have been done, however. The allied navies co-operated on several occasions. The Russians had so greatly augmented their seaward defences, especially on the commanding heights above the permanent forts, that the ships could not stand in to engage save when the nights were dark; and, even then, as they were obliged to direct much of their fire by the aid of signal lights placed ashore, great accuracy was scarcely obtainable. On the night of April 13th, the Valorous had a smart brush with Forts Constantine and Alexander, and with the Quarantine Battery, and withdrew without having been struck; and, on the night of April 22nd, the British and French flagships, Royal Albert, 121, screw (Lyons had transferred his flag to her on Feb. 14th, 1855; she was commanded by Captain William Robert Mends, C.B.), and Montebello, 120, screw, also stood in, but had to desist from their intended action owing to an accident which disabled the Frenchman's machinery. Upon the whole, it was plain that, so long as the Russian fleet remained in port - and it was certain that it did not purpose to put to sea - the presence of immense naval forces off Sebastopol was almost entirely useless; and it was this fact which at length determined the despatch of an expedition to pass through the Strait of Kertch and into the Sea of Azof, where the enemy had large stores of supplies that might be reached without great difficulty, and where, in consequence, he could be more effectively annoyed. Lyons and Bruat were, almost from the first, strong partisans of this expedition. Raglan and Canrobert also believed that it would produce valuable results; but for a long time they were unwilling to spare the troops which were required to accompany it. On April 25th, however, having decided that they would attempt no important military operations before Sebastopol until on or after May 11th, they agreed with the naval chiefs to lend their co-operation; and, accordingly, on May 3rd, 12,000 troops under Generals Sir George Brown and d'Autemarre, were embarked in forty steamers, British and French. That evening the flotilla weighed and headed for Eupatoria, to deceive the Russians. In the night it altered course.
"On the 5th," writes an officer who was present, "having arrived within twenty miles of our destination, the Admiral made a general signal for Captains, with the object, as we supposed, of discussing the plan of attack; so our surprise and disappointment may be imagined when" (our Captain) "returned, looking very glum, with the intelligence that General Canrobert had received a message from Napoleon which obliged him to recall the French. Of course the English might have gone on: but it was not thought prudent to act alone."
The British, therefore, returned, and anchored in Kamiesh Bay. Canrobert, there is small doubt, exaggerated the onus which was laid upon him by his instructions from Paris; and he certainly, by recalling the expedition after it had sailed, ran serious risk not only of encouraging the enemy but also of disquieting his allies. A little later, however, an Azof expedition was again allowed to set out, and was permitted to do its work without interference. It may be noted, meanwhile, that the Emperor Napoleon's message, in consequence of the receipt of which the first expedition was recalled, was one of the earliest messages that passed over the then newly-laid cable to the seat of war. It may also be noted that, soon after the laying of the cable, the French military commander-in-chief, who probably felt that he could not satisfactorily do his work at the front while he was subject to hourly dictation from Paris, resigned (May 18th), and was succeeded by General Pélissier. Still more in naval than in military matters is it unwise for authorities at a distance to seek to direct in detail those who are on the scene of action. The late Sir Geoffrey Hornby's opinions on this point, which have been cited in a previous volume, seem to be strictly in accordance with all the lessons of the past.
The new expedition included about 7000 French, 5000 Turkish, and 3500 British, with a few Sardinian troops (Sardinia had cast in her lot with the Allies since the beginning of the year), the British being, as before, under Sir George Brown; and the fleet employed was made up of nine sail of the line, and about fifty smaller vessels, of which those named below formed the British contingent: Royal Albert, 121, scr. (flag); Hannibal, 91, scr. (flag of R.-Ad. Houston Stewart); Algiers, 91, scr.; Agamemnon, 91, scr.; St. Jean d'Acre, 101, scr.; Princess Royal, 91, scr.; Sidon, 22, padd.; Valorous, 22, padd.; Leopard, 18, padd.; Tribune 31, scr.; Simoom, 8, scr.; Furious, 16, padd.; Highflyer, 21, scr.; Terrible, 21, padd. Sphinx, 6, padd.; Spitfire, 5, padd.; Gladiator, 6, padd.; Caradoc, 2, padd.; Banshee 2, padd.; and the following light squadron, viz., Miranda, 15, scr.; Vesuvius, 6, padd. Curlew, 9, scr.; Swallow, 9, scr.; Stromboli, 6, padd.; Ardent, 5, padd.; Medina 4, padd.; Wrangler, 4, scr.; Viper, 4, scr.; Lynx, 4, scr.; Recruit, 6, padd.; Arrow 4, scr.; Snake, 4, scr.; and Beagle, 4, scr.
Sir Edmund Lyons and Vice-Admiral Bruat were themselves in command. The fleet sailed from Kamiesh Bay on May 22nd, and reached a point a few miles below Kertch on the morning of May 24th, the Queen's birthday. The troops were quickly thrown ashore near Kamiesh Bournou and Cape Paulovski, while some of the lighter vessels pushed on towards Kertch and Yenikale. But the Russians did not await the attack. Taken, apparently, by surprise, they blew up their fortifications on both sides of the strait, abandoned about a hundred guns, and retired, after having destroyed three steamers, and several other heavily-armed vessels, as well as large quantities of provisions, ammunition and stores. These results were effected without loss to the Allies, and, indeed, practically without any fighting.
"There was, however, an incident during the day that called forth the admiration of both fleets, and which deserves to be particularly noticed. Lieut. McKillop, whose gun vessel, the Snake, was not employed, like the others, in landing troops, dashed past the forts after an enemy's steamer, and, although he soon found himself engaged not only with her but also with two others who came to her support, he persevered, and, by the cleverness and extreme rapidity of his manoeuvres, prevented the escape of all three; and they were subsequently destroyed by the enemy" (Lyons).
The Snake had no one hurt, although shot passed through her. Towards the end of the affair she was supported by the Recruit, and other craft. Lieutenant Henry Frederick McKillop, for his gallantry, was promoted to be Commander, as from the date of his exploit, as soon as he had completed the necessary qualifying sea time.
At Kertch and Yenikale, about 12,000 tons of coal were taken by the Allies, and were of the utmost value to them.
The operations in the Sea of Azov, 1855
On May 25th, Lyons and Bruat despatched into the Sea of Azof the light squadron specified in the note on p. 453, together with four (later reinforced by two more) French steamers, the whole under Captain Edmund Moubray Lyons, of the Miranda, and Commander Béral de Sédaiges, of the Lucifer, and ordered it to take or sink as many as possible of the enemy's ships of war and merchantmen, to destroy such stores as might be useful to the Russian army, and to respect private property.
"It was", says Hamilton Williams, "like bursting into a vast treasure-house, crammed with wealth of inestimable value. For miles along its shores stretched the countless storehouses packed with the accumulated harvests of the great corn provinces of Russia. From them the Russian armies in the field were fed; from them the beleaguered population of Sebastopol looked for preservation from the famine which already pressed hard upon them."
Having entered the Sea of Azof, the flotilla appeared, on May 26th, before Berdiansk, where some coasting-vessels and large stores of grain were burnt. The Swallow and Wrangler were then detached to Genitchi, to command the entrance to the Putrid Sea; and the Curlew was sent to cruise off the mouth of the Don, while the squadron moved towards Fort Arabat, off which it arrived on May 28th. The work, which mounted thirty guns, engaged the Allies, who had but one man wounded, for an hour and a half, and then blew up. The strength of the Arabat garrison, however, prevented a landing from being attempted. While the French contingent returned to Kertch to coal there, the British portion of the flotilla, having silenced the defenders of the place, destroyed much stores and many vessels at Genitchi, on May 29th, thanks, chiefly, to the exertions of a landing-party under Lieutenant John Francis Campbell Mackenzie (Com., in consequence, as from May 29th, 1855), and to the personal gallantry of Lieutenants Cecil William Buckley, and Hugh Talbot Burgoyne, and Gunner John Roberts, who, to complete the work, went ashore together, and, without assistance, in presence of a considerable force of the enemy, and beyond gunshot of their ships, fired certain vessels and stores which, owing to a shift of wind, might otherwise have escaped. Each of these three officers afterwards received the Victoria Cross. In the operations at Genitchi, only one British seaman was wounded. "Since the squadron entered the Sea of Azof, four days ago," wrote Captain Lyons, in his dispatch to his father, "the enemy has lost four steamers of war (these had entered the Sea of Azof upon the approach of the British, and had there been destroyed by their crews), 246 merchant vessels, also corn and flour magazines to the value of at least £150,000." He afterwards estimated the amount of corn destroyed at sufficient to supply 100,000 men for nearly four months.
Having informed the Commander-in-Chief that by June 2nd or 3rd he should be ready to begin operations in the shallower waters of the Gulf of the Don, Captain Lyons received, as reinforcements, the small steamers Danube, and Sulina, and twelve launches, armed with 24-pr. howitzers and rockets, from the large ships in the Strait of Kertch. These joined him at Taganrog, off which, at a distance of about eight and a half miles, he anchored in eighteen feet of water on the evening of June 1st. In the night, owing to a brisk easterly wind, the water fell three feet, and the squadron, in consequence, had to move a mile and a half further out. In the town were about 3500 troops, and the place was fairly well defended. On the 2nd it was reconnoitred by the Recruit, Lieutenant George Fiott Day, which, very early on the following morning, was anchored 1400 yards from the mole head. The town was then summoned by Lieutenant William Horton, who was sent in under a flag of truce; and, when the governor rejected terms, the Recruit opened a sharp fire, covered by which the boats, under Commander Cowper Phipps Coles, of the Stromboli, pulled, or were towed, towards the beach, and plied their howitzers and rockets at point-blank range against the Russians, who strove in vain to steal down under shelter of the houses, and save their storehouses from being burnt. Many stores were set fire to by the rockets; but the conflagration would have been by no means general had not Lieutenant John Francis Campbell Mackenzie, with a separate division of boats, devoted special attention to covering a four-oared gig, manned by volunteers, and containing Lieutenant Cecil William Buckley, and Boatswain Henry Cooper (V.C. for this service). These officers landed repeatedly, and fired many warehouses and buildings which might otherwise have escaped. Indeed, the blaze ultimately took even firmer hold than had been intended, and involved the destruction of great part of the town. The attack, having effected all its objects, ceased soon after 3 P.M. The only British loss was one man wounded.