The Turkish Soldier at the Crimea I


Ferik Ismail Pasha, commander of the Egyptian troops in the Crimea. Photo by Roger Fenton, 1855.

The Naval bombardment continued until 25 October and achieved nothing, although Admiral Kornilov died on the first day of the bombardment. Thus began the 349 days of siege and trench warfare at Sevastopol.

Menshikov, with his army reinforced to 65,000, decided to attack the British supply port at Balaklava on 25 October 1854. Part of the Ottoman contingent, consisting of little-trained redif or esnan troops (about 1,000 to 1,400 men with 10 guns), was deployed in a line of four lightly constructed artillery earthworks or redoubts to the north of Balaklava. According to Fortescue, Lord Raglan did not wish his soldiers mix up with the “Turkish” soldiers, and his army did not wish it either, because, “in Bulgaria the men had observed how the Bulgarian peasants, who sold them provisions, were insolently waylaid and robbed by the Turks of the money that had been paid to them; and they were very indignant’

Lt General Pavel Petrovich Liprandi (1796-1864), with a force of 25,000 men, made a surprise attack on this line early at dawn on 25 October. The Ottoman troops, overwhelmed by the far superior enemy, after a resistance of more than one hour (during which 170 of them were killed), retreated in disorder. john Blunt, civilian interpreter and unofficial aide-de-camp to Lt General Lord Lucan, wrote in his reminiscences that the Ottoman commander Rüstem Pasha told him after the battle that some of the ammunition supplied to those redoubts did not fit the bores of the guns. Blunt wrote the following about those in Redoubt No. 1:

The Turks, although greatly outnumbered, made a gallant stand, and both Lord Lucan and Sir Colin Campbell manifested their approval! The former called out to me ‘Blunt, those Turks are doing well!’ but, having lost fully one-third of their number, and, expecting no support, they retired leaving their three guns, their killed and a few prisoners, most of them wounded, in the enemy’s hands.

Blunt was then sent to the binbashi (major) of the retreating troops to order them to form behind the Highlanders (93rd Regiment). One of the men, bleeding from a wound in his breast, asked “why no troops were sent to our support”. Another declared that “the guns in their redoubt were too small and ill-supplied with ammunition, and could not be properly served’: A third complained that during the last two days they had nothing to eat but biscuits and very little water to drink. After the first redoubt was captured by the Russians, those in the other three redoubts, about 800 men, “seeing large bodies of Russian cavalry and infantry rapidly advancing in their direction and expecting no support, made but little resistance and tied towards Balaklava”.

The Takvim-i Vekayi wrote that the Ottoman troops in the first tabya (redoubt) were attacked by 8 Russian battalions with 12 guns and that their resistance lasted two hours. Adolphus Slade depicted the situation as follows:

This exposed and dangerous post, above 2,000 yards away from any support, requiring the staunchest troops of the army to hold, if worth holding. was entrusted to men under depressing influences; men not long enrolled, and never in action. Ignorant and suspicious, in a strange army. they may have fancied themselves placed there by the “infidel” to be sacrificed.

According to the Times correspondent William Howard Russell,

For some mysterious reason or other the Turkish government sent instead of the veterans who fought under Omar Pasha, a body of soldiers of only two years’ service, the latest levies of the Porte, many belonging to the non-belligerent class of barbers, tailors, and small shopkeepers. Still they were patient, hardy, and strong …

It is not surprising that the Ottoman commander did not send his best troops, when Lord Raglan wanted some Ottoman troops to dig and hold earthworks for the defence of British troops. Why should he give his best troops for such a task? Apparently Russell arrived together with Lord Raglan about 8 o’clock. Russell then writes that

It was soon evident that no reliance was to be placed on the Turkish infantry or artillerymen. AU the stories we had heard about their bravery behind stone walls and earthworks proved how differently the same or similar people fight under different circumstances. When the Russians advanced, the Turks fired a few rounds at them, got frightened at the distance of their supports in the rear, looked round, received a few shots and shell, then “bolted;’ and fled with an agility quite at variance with common- place notions of Oriental deportment on the battle-field … Meantime the enemy advanced his cavalry rapidly. To our inexpressible disgust we saw the Turks in redoubt No.2 fly at their approach …

Lord Raglan’s nephew and aide-de-camp Colonel Somerset Calthorpe wrote in the same vein as Russell:

A few moments after our arrival the Russians established a battery of field artillery … and opened fire on No. I Redoubt: at the same time a column of infantry (some 1.200) men advanced up to it, the Turkish garrison firing on them in a desultory sort of way with small arms, but without attempting to serve their heavy guns. To our intense disgust. in a few moments we saw a little stream of men issue from the rear of the redoubt and run down the hill side towards our lines …

Yet Russell and Calthorpe do not mention the fact that these few Ottoman troops had been under artillery fire for almost two hours before the arrival of the British command staff at their observation point. The vastly superior Russian forces (three columns, commanded by Major Generals Levutskiy, Semyakin and Gribbe) had stormed Redoubt No. I towards 8 o’clock after a strong and concentrated cannonade, although the “Turks” fought “very stubbornly” and left 170 dead Lord Raglan came to observe the battlefield very shortly before 8 a.m. General Canrobert came thereafter. When he looked from the Chersonese Plateau, Raglan saw only the retreating Ottoman troops. As Michael Hargreave Mawson observed on Calthorpe’s narrative:

The evidence in this passage is most unreliable; the author writing not only from a viewpoint nearly three miles from the action, but also with the specific intention of defending the memory of a beloved commander and uncle – Raglan, The fact that Raglan was two hours or more late for the battle has been carefully glossed over with the claim that the Russian Artillery only opened fire once Raglan and the staff were watching, and that the infantry charge was simultaneous. It is contrary to the usages of war to shell a position whilst your own infantry is attempting to capture it. The figure of 1,200 Russian infantry can be taken as deliberately under-estimated.

From that day onwards, the French and the British officers and soldiers in the Crimea began to treat the Ottoman soldiers (“the Turks”) as despicable cowards. On the other hand, according to Oleg Shkedya, the evaluations of Russian researchers and participants in the war concerning the Ottoman troops in this battle were more balanced. The “Turks” had defended the first redoubt as long as possible, and although it was taken by the Russians they were not to be blamed. Shkedya also wrote that Russian sources in general were of the opinion that the allies commanded everything and that the Ottoman generals were in an unenviable position.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *