Russian Operational Art of War in Crimea, March 2014

Russian Operational Art of War in Crimea, March 2014

  flags1

Russian flags fly from a watchtower at the Ukrainian Naval headquarters at Sevastopol.[i]

During March 2014 Russian military forces captured key Ukrainian army, navy and air force bases around Crimea. By the end of the month Russia had completed the annexation of the entire Crimean peninsula and was under pressure from the international order.[ii] The lightning military conquest of Crimea triggered a major Russia-NATO showdown that is still evolving. How was this stunning military success achieved at the operational and tactical levels? What does the Crimean conquest reveal about current Russian operational doctrine?

            Following the turmoil of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution Western analysts expected some form of blowback from the Russian Federation. Talk of Ukrainian inclusion in NATO as early as 2008 had challenged Russia’s control of the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol, prompting then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to describe Ukraine as an “artificial country.”[iii] Russian control of the Black Sea Fleet base, however, had not been scheduled to expire until at least 2017.[iv] Had this occurred, the Black Sea Fleet would have been relocated at the naval base of Novorossiysk.[v] Events leading towards military intervention began to unfold on 25 February 2014 in the Crimean capital of Simferopol where hundreds of pro-Russian protesters were involved in demonstrations against the new Ukrainian government.[vi]

Covert military deployments began at the end of February. On 26 February military personnel wielding Russian flags established checkpoints along the highway between Simferopol and Sevastopol.[vii] On 27 February sixty pro-Russian gunmen, 30 of whom arrived by bus and were described as heavily armed, seized the Crimean parliament buildings.[viii] The next day, 28 February, Russian forces described by Rueter’s newswire as “Russian servicemen wearing helmets and armoured body protection and backed by armoured personnel carriers” blockaded Belbek airport at Sevastopol.[ix] Another 50 gunmen in fatigues but without markings and described as wearing “the same gear as those who seized the buildings of the Crimean parliament” laid siege to Simferopol airport. The gunmen arrived in three KAMAZ military vehicles without plates or markings.[x]

Meeting in an emergency session, the Crimean parliament voted no-confidence to the Prime Minister, appointing as a replacement, Sergey Aksyonov of the Crimea Russia Unity Party, who promptly moved for a referendum on secession from Ukraine with a preliminary date set for 25 May 2014.[xi]

Military Action in Crimea

Whatever the origin of the plan, the seizures and preparations prior to 1 March suggest the calculated and complex nature of the Crimean operation. The initially covert actions acted as the prelude to the breakout of Russian forces from the Sevastopol naval base.

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Info-graphic displaying the initial movements.[xii]

The Russian Federation Council, upper house of parliament, at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the use of the Russian military to ensure the security of ethnic Russians living in the Crimean region.[xiii] According to statements made by Putin later on, there were approximately 22,000 Russian personnel in Crimea at the Black Sea Fleet base at Sevastopol prior to March 2014. [xiv]

Military action commenced on 2 March with a series of incidents involving the surrender and capture of Ukrainian marines at Feodosiya and the attempted hijacking of the Ukrainian navy ship Slavutych.[xv] A standoff quickly developed between the Ukrainian and Russian naval bases at Sevastopol.[xvi]

            The standoff continued on 3 March, with allegations that Alexander Vitko, the C-in-C Black Sea Fleet had issued an ultimatum to the Ukrainian forces in Crimea urging them to surrender.[xvii] Russian naval vessels blockaded the Ukrainian anti-submarine warfare (ASW) ship Ternopil and the command ship Slavutych in port at Sevastopol.[xviii] 200 unarmed Ukrainian soldiers from the 240th Tactical Air Brigade were ejected from and then attempted to renter Belbek airbase.[xix] The 204th Fighter Unit of the Ukrainian Air Force defected, delivering up to 49 combat aircraft including MiG-29 fighters.[xx] Russian soldiers next seized the ferry terminal at Kerch, a key crossing point from Russia to Crimea.[xxi] By this point the Ukrainian government suspected 16,000 Russian troops had “massed in Crimea”.[xxii] The US estimates put the number at a more cautious 6,000.[xxiii]

Mikoyan-Gurevich_MiG-29_(9-13),_Ukraine_-_Air_Force_AN1734687

Ukrainian MiG-29.[xxiv]

            On 4 March Vladimir Putin made a statement that the military forces in Crimea did not belong to Russia, but rather to local pro-Russian Crimean self defense forces.[xxv] Events continued to escalate the next day with the “unknown gunmen” in Simferopol taking UN special envoy Robert Serry hostage.[xxvi] 700 soldiers and officers from the 50th, 55th, and 147th anti-aircraft missile regiments at Yalta, Feodosiya and Fiolente defected. By 5 March as many as 5,500 Ukrainian personnel had defected, turning over hardware including 20 SA-11 and 30 S-300 SAM systems.[xxvii]

SA-11 system

SA-11 SAM system.[xxviii]

 S-300

S-300 launch vehicle.[xxix]           

            On 6 March gunmen seized the Simferopol Radio and Television Transmitting Station, taking the station off-air.[xxx] Russian Black Sea Fleet sailors next scuttled the old cruiser Ochakov at the entrance of Donuzlav Bay to act as a blockship: an attempt to prevent the Ukrainian Navy from sortieing to the Black Sea.[xxxi] According to the Ukrainian border service, Russia now had upwards of 30,000 soldiers in Crimea.[xxxii] The next day a second blockship was sunk near the Ochakov.[xxxiii]

            Over the next week, Russian forces captured additional buildings in the capital, and secured several border crossing points. The major triumph came on 11 March when the Simferopol International Airport was occupied by pro-Russian forces, effectively closing Crimean airspace- except for flights direct from Moscow.[xxxiv]

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Locations and descriptions of Ukrainian naval, air and army bases captured during March, 2014.[xxxv]

By 13 March, in advance of the Russian-backed referendum on Crimean secession, military drills were organized in Kursk, Belgorod and Rostov along the Ukrainian border. These exercises involved at least 10,000 soldiers, their vehicles and support aircraft, including six Su-27 fighters dispatched to Belarus in response to NATO F-16 deployments in Poland.[xxxvi] Attempts to deescalate prior to the 16 March referendum represented only slight friction for the Russian forces in Crimea, as they continued to seize Ukrainian military facilities.

            On 18 March masked gunmen entered Ukraine’s military topographic and navigation directorate at Simferopol, capturing the building. Two Ukrainian service members were killed in the gunfight that ensued.[xxxvii] The Ukrainian Fleet HQ at Sevastopol was then captured on 19 March, stormed by “several hundred militiamen”.[xxxviii]

International Reaction

 Obama

Monday 24 March 2014: US President Barack Obama announces Russia’s suspension from the G8.[xxxix]

Russia announced its annexation of the Crimean peninsula on Tuesday, 18 March 2014. The Ukrainian government moved to relocate its 25,000 military personnel and families to the mainland the following day.[xl] Sevastopol, along with the rest of the Crimean peninsula, had voted in the controversial plebiscite on 16 March to join the Russian Federation as the Crimean Federal District (26 thousand square kilometers and population 2 million).[xli] The Russian Duma ratified the bill of accession on 21 March 2014.[xlii] On 22 March, Russian soldiers backed by half a dozen infantry fighting vehicles captured the Ukrainian military base at Belbek, followed shortly by the air base at Novofedorivka.[xliii]

The month long military takeover came to a conclusion when the Ukrainian government agreed to withdraw its forces from the peninsula.[xlvii] On 26 March acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov ordered the withdrawal of Ukrainian military forces from Crimea.[xliv]

 20UKRAINE-articleLarge

Ukrainian naval officials, civilian and military personnel surrender Sevastopol. Unidentified armed men, suspected to be Russian soldiers, stand guard.[xlvi]

On 27 March the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the referendum that had justified the Crimean peninsula’s absorption by the Russian Federation. The International Monetary Fund was at this point actively backing loans to the pro-European Ukrainian government to the tune of at least US $14 billion.[xlix] Russia had been expelled from the G8 Nations and Ukraine had withdrawn from the Soviet successor Commonwealth of Independent States.[l] US backed resolutions at the Security Council had been vetoed by Russia.[li]

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The news media could hardly ignore the stunning success of the Crimean operation: a showcase of Russia’s military prowess and modernization. Here unmarked Russian soldiers equipped with 100 (century) series AK assault rifles, Kevlar helmets, tinted goggles, and radio encryption units.[lii] Western military analysts went into overdrive, speculating on Putin’s next coup as early as 21 March.[xlviii]

On 8 April the Russian and Ukrainian governments signed an agreement of exchange whereby the 70 Ukrainian warships captured or surrendered during the March operation were returned to Ukraine.[liii] Also returned were 200 vehicles including T-64B main battle tanks and ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery.[liv]

 tanks

Ukrainian T-64B MBTs are moved from the military base at Perevalne, Crimea, as part of the Ukrainian withdrawal from Crimea.[xlv]

By 25 April 2014 significant Russian contingents had massed on the Ukrainian border, and US Secretary of State John Kerry alleged that Russian “military intelligence services and special operators” were conducting operations across the border.[lv]

The crisis expanded. Following the March movements, NATO and Russia announced new military exercises. In early June US President Barack Obama announced a $1 billion commitment aimed at strengthening US military power in Eastern Europe.[lvi] Fighting around the Ukrainian border city of Donetsk escalated in July, leading to the 17 July 2014 Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 disaster.[lvii]

 mh17

Ukraine and Crimea showing location of MH17 crash.[lviii]

Conclusion

The Crimean operation revealed a transformation in Russian military affairs to a doctrinal focus on combined arms operations. The conquest of Crimea demonstrated a new capabilities of a Russian military equipped and trained for rapid deployment, small group tactics and covert operations, integrated at the operational level.[lix] Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have achieved his goal of developing a modernized Russian military, “mobile and well-equipped… that can respond rapidly and adequately to all potential threats” with an emphasis on the tactical and operational levels of war.[lx] Indeed, the new face of the Russian Forces (well armed, hi-tech, covert combat fatigues) was so alluring that it was employed by the RF MOD as a recruitment tool as early as 4 March 2014.[lxi]

Suffice it to say, Western military analysts must now assume that Russian troop movements of corps sized forces (30,000 to 50,000 combatants) in conjunction with combined naval-air-land operations represent a comfortable starting point for military intervention: a far cry from the 2008 war with Georgia.[lxii] The question of success with larger formations, such as the army sized military exercises carried out recently (summer 2013 far east exercises; 160,000 combatants)[lxiii] suggests the potential limitations of the Russian Defense Ministry’s focus on the operational context.[lxiv] Nevertheless, the RF executed a significant combined arms drill involving over 100 aircraft near Donetsk on 4 August 2014.[lxv]

Today

The NATO “Iron Sword” exercise in Lithuania kicked off 3 November 2014.[lxvi] NATO reported major Russian troop movements east of Ukraine on 4 November.[lxvii]

[i] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/world/europe/crimea.html?_r=1 [ii] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis” (wikimedia foundation, October 23, 2014), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2014_Crimean_crisis#March_29. [iii] Steven Erlanger, “Russian Aggression Puts NATO in Spotlight,” The New York Times, March 18, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/world/europe/russias-aggression-in-crimea-brings-nato-into-renewed-focus.html. [iv] Globalsecurity.org, “Sevastopol” (Globalsecurity.org, March 18, 2014), http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/sevastopol.htm. [v] Ibid. [vi] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [vii] Mark Mackinnon, “Globe in Ukraine: Russian-Backed Fighters Restrict Access to Crimean City,” The Globe and Mail, February 26, 2014, online edition, sec. World, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/tension-in-crimea-as-pro-russia-and-pro-ukraine-groups-stage-competing-rallies/article17110382/#dashboard/follows/?cmpid=tgc. [viii] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis” (wikimedia foundation, October 23, 2014), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2014_Crimean_crisis#March_29.; Sabra Ayres, “Crimea Sets Date for Autonomy Vote amid Gunmen, Anti-Kiev Protests,” The Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2014/0227/Crimea-sets-date-for-autonomy-vote-amid-gunmen-anti-Kiev-protests-video. [ix] Reuters UK, “Military Airport in Ukraine’s Crimea Taken over by Russian Soldiers-Interfax,” Uk.reuters.com, February 28, 2014, online edition, http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/02/28/ukraine-crisis-idUKL6N0LX0CG20140228. [x] Interfax-Ukraine, “About 50 Armed Men in Military Uniform Seize Simferopol Airport in Early Hours of Friday,” Ukraine News Agency, February 28, 2014, 50, http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/193305.html. [xi] Ayres, “Crimea Sets Date for Autonomy Vote amid Gunmen, Anti-Kiev Protests.” [xii] David Miller, “Russia’s Crimea Conquest,” blog, David Miller: Geography Instructor, (March 10, 2014), http://blogs.nvcc.edu/damiller/2014/03/10/russias-crimea-conquest/. [xiii] rt.com, “Putin: Russian Citizens, Troops Threatened in Ukraine, Need Armed Forces’ Protection” (Russia Today, March 1, 2014), http://rt.com/news/russia-troops-ukraine-possible-359/. [xiv] Matt Smith and Alla Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea,” CNN, March 18, 2014, online edition, sec. europe, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/18/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/. [xv] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xvi] Haroon Siddique and Ben Quinn, “Ukrainian and Russian Troops in Standoff at Crimean Military Base – As It Happened,” Theguardian.com, March 3, 2014, online edition, sec. world, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/02/ukraine-warns-russia-crimea-war-live. [xvii] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xviii] Ibid. [xix] Alan Cullison and Margaret Coker, “Confrontation at Crimea Air Base Defused – For Now,” The Wallstreet Journal, March 4, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304360704579419493589067568. [xx] The Voice of Russia, “ARC Government: Three Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiments of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Join Crimean Side,” Voice of Russia, TASS, RIA, Interfax, March 5, 2014, online edition, http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_03_05/ARC-Government-three-anti-aircraft-missile-regiment-of-the-Armed-Forces-of-Ukraine-join-Crimean-side-8049/. [xxi] The Associated Press, “U.S. Warns Russia against Threatening Ukraine Navy,” CBCnews, March 3, 2014, online edition, sec. world, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/u-s-warns-russia-against-threatening-ukraine-navy-1.2557443. [xxii] Ibid. [xxiii] Ibid. [xxiv] http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Mikoyan-Gurevich_MiG-29_%289-13%29,_Ukraine_-_Air_Force_AN1734687.jpg [xxv] BBC News, “Putin: Russia Force Only ‘Last Resort’ in Ukraine,” Bbc.com, March 4, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26433309. [xxvi] Agence France Presse, “UN Envoy in Crimea Detained by Gunmen: Ukraine Ministry,” The Daily Star, March 5, 2014, online edition, sec. International, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/International/2014/Mar-05/249351-ukraine-un-special-representative-held-in-crimea.ashx#axzz2v6 peiIFE. [xxvii] The Voice of Russia, “ARC Government: Three Anti-Aircraft Missile Regiments of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Join Crimean Side.” [xxviii] http://static.businessinsider.com/image/53ce3cdc6da811713812a151-1200/image.jpg [xxix] http://en.ria.ru/images/18136/88/181368800.jpg [xxx] Interfax-Ukraine, “Gunmen Seize Simferopol Television Station, Turn off Channel 5, 1+1, Turn on Rossiya 24,” KyivPost, March 6, 2014, online edition, sec. Ukraine, https://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/gunmen-seize-simferopol-television-station-turn-off-channel-5-11-turn-on-rossiya-24-338610.html. [xxxi] navaltoday.com, “Russia Sinks Ship to Block Ukrainian Navy Ships,” Naval Today, March 6, 2014, http://navaltoday.com/2014/03/06/russia-sinks-ship-to-block-ukrainian-navy-ships/. [xxxii] La Prensa, “Ukraine: 30,000 Russian Troops in Crimea,” Laprensasa.com, March 7, 2014, online edition, http://www.laprensasa.com/309_america-in-english/2445432_ukraine-30-000-russian-troops-in-crimea.html. [xxxiii] en.wikipedia.org, “Timeline of 2014 Crimean Crisis.” [xxxiv] The Standard, “Crimea Bars Flights,” Hong Kong Standard, March 11, 2014, online edition, sec. World, http://www.thestandard.com.hk/breaking_news_detail.asp?id=47253&icid=4&d_str=. [xxxv]http://www.kyivpost.com/media/images/2014/03/21/p18jgqoftd1kue1ak97qotv41uc14/original.jpg [xxxvi] Steven Myers and Alison Smale, “Russian Troops Mass at Border With Ukraine,” The New York Times, March 13, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/world/europe/ukraine.html. [xxxvii] Smith and Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea.” [xxxviii] The Associated Press, “Militiamen Storm the Ukrainian Navy’s Headquarters,” Haaretz, March 19, 2014, online edition, sec. World, http://www.haaretz.com/news/world/1.580662. [xxxix] Alison Smale and Michael D. Shear, “Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by U.S. and Allies,” The New York Times, March 24, 2014, Online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/25/world/europe/obama-russia-crimea.html​. [xl] David Herszenhorn and Andrew Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea,” The New York Times, March 20, 2014, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/world/europe/crimea. [xli] Wolframalpha.com search for “Crimea”, 3 November 2014: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=Crimea [xlii] http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_districts_of_Russia [xliii] Carol Morello and Will Englund, “Ukrainian Military Outposts in Crimea,” The Washington Post, March 23, 2014, online edition, sec. World, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/monitors-set-to-deploy-to-ukraine-to-try-to-contain-crisis/2014/03/22/742e4898-b1a4-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html. [xliv] Smith and Eshchenko, “Ukraine Cries ‘Robbery’ as Russia Annexes Crimea.” [xlv] http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/dam/assets/140326120216-01-ukraine-0326-horizontal-gallery.jpg [xlvi] http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/03/20/world/20Crimea/20UKRAINE-articleLarge.jpg http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/20/world/europe/crimea.html?_r=1 [xlvii] Herszenhorn and Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea.” [xlviii] Michael B. Kelley, “AFTER CRIMEA: Top Intelligence Analysts Forecast The 5 Things That Putin Might Do Next,” Business Insider, March 21, 2014, online edition, http://www.businessinsider.com/wikistrat-the-next-russian-military-invasion-2014-3. [xlix] BBC News, “Ukraine: UN Condemns Crimea Vote as IMF and US Back Loans,” Bbc.com, March 27, 2014, online edition edition, sec. Europe, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26776416. [l] Smale and Shear, “Russia Is Ousted From Group of 8 by U.S. and Allies.” [li] Herszenhorn and Kramer, “Ukraine Plans to Withdraw Troops From Russia-Occupied Crimea.” [lii] C. J. Chivers and David Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army,” The New York Times, April 2, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/03/world/europe/crimea-offers-showcase-for-russias-rebooted-military.html. [liii] Ruslan Pukhov and Andrei Frolov, “The Ukrainian Crisis: Possible Implications for the Russian Military Industry” (valdaiclub.com, May 12, 2014), http://www.cast.ru/eng/?id=542. [liv] Tim Ripley, “Russia Begins Returning Ukraine Naval Vessels and Aircraft,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, April 12, 2014, online edition, sec. Military Capabilities, http://www.janes.com/article/36695/russia-begins-returning-ukraine-naval-vessels-and-aircraft. [lv] C. J. Chivers, Neil MacFarquhar, and Andrew Higgins, “Russia to Start Drills, Warning Ukraine Over Mobilization,” The New York Times, April 24, 2014, online edition, sec. Europe, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/world/europe/ukraine-crisis.html?_r=0. [lvi] rt.com, “Obama Pledges $1bn for More Troops, Military Drills in E. Europe,” Russia Today, June 3, 2014, online edition, http://rt.com/news/163320-obama-poland-troops-europe/. [lvii] en.wikipedia.org, “Malaysia Airlines Flight 17” (wikimedia foundation, 4 November), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_17. [lviii]http://graphics8.nytimes.com/newsgraphics/2014/07/17/mh17/8053a9ff105c5aaadbed871b49cde28eaa2fa7e1/aviation-ai2html-600.png [lix] Chivers and Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army.” [lx] Vladimir Putin, “Expanded Meeting of the Defence Ministry Board,” Eng.kremlin.ru, February 27, 2013, online edition, sec. News, http://eng.kremlin.ru/news/5050. [lxi] Simon Shuster, “Putin’s ‘Test’ in Crimea Gives Russian Army a Rare Chance to Gloat,” Time.com, March 31, 2014, online edition, sec. World, http://time.com/44375/putin-crimea-russia-army/. [lxii] Konstantin Makienko, “The Russian Air Force Didn’t Perform Well during the Conflict in South Ossetia,” Russia & CIS Observer 23, no. 4 (November 2008), http://www.cast.ru/eng/?id=328. [lxiii] Chivers and Herszenhorn, “In Crimea, Russia Showcases a Rebooted Army.” [lxiv] Graeme Mackay, “Ukraine, Russia and the Crimea: A History,” Yahoo! News, April 2, 2014, http://news.yahoo.com/ukraine-russia-crimea-history-184941601.html. [lxv] Alec Luhn, “Russia Holds Huge Military Exercises near Ukraine Border,” Theguardian.com, August 4, 2014, online edition, sec. world, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/04/russia-military-exercises-ukraine-border. [lxvi] rt.com, “Iron Sword 2014: NATO Stages Massive Military Drill in Lithuania,” Russia Today, November 3, 2014, online edition, http://rt.com/news/201771-lithuania-iron-sword-wargame/. [lxvii] AFP, Reuters, DPA, “Ukraine Readies for Attacks in East,” Dw.de, November 4, 2014, online edition, http://www.dw.de/ukraine-readies-for-attacks-in-east/a-18039032.

Breaking the Line: Cavalry Tactics at Balaklava

Breaking the Line: Cavalry Tactics at Balaklava

25 October 1854

 Image

“Into the Valley of Death” by John Charlton.1

“Popular history presents the Crimean War as the British army’s most disastrous campaign, with the blundering charge of the Light Brigade and the suffering soldiers at Balaclava saved only by Florence Nightingale.”2

“In English literature the War inspired Tennyson’s ‘Charge of the Light Brigade,’ a poetic description of an episode in the battle of Balaklava. It might be added that this conflict, which is considered by many scholars as unnecessary and a result of misunderstandings, was the more tragic since typhus and other epidemics caused even more deaths than did the actual fighting.”3

The Alliance between Britain and France was formally arranged in March 1854 when the two powers agreed to assist the Ottoman Sultan against the Russian Empire.4 The Allies commenced operations in the Crimea with a 50,000 man expeditionary landing at Balaklava in September 1854, with the intention of securing Sevastopol, Russia’s primary naval base on the Black Sea.5 Due to the introduction of steam transport the expeditionary force’s cavalry contingent arrived in theatre before the fodder for its horses, not to mention tents for the soldiers: the supply train had been dispatched on sailing vessels with resultant delays.6 The Czarist forces in immediate opposition, under Prince Menshikov, were defeated at the Battle of the Alma, 20 September 1854. The Allied guns expended 900 rounds during the Alma.7 In response to this setback, Menshikov retreated to Sevastopol, where as C-in-C, with Gortschakoff as second in command and Chomutoff in command of the artillery he prepared his defences.8 Vice-Admiral Kornilov, who had fought at the Battle of Sinope, 30 November 1853, and was Chief of Staff of the Black Sea Fleet, led the Russian garrison.9

 Image

Battle of the Alma, by Horace Vernet.10

 In preparation for the siege of Sevastopol the Allies deployed heavy artillery, and by the end of September naval guns and army howitzers were in position on the heights overlooking Balaklava.11 Insufficient logistics resulted in a cholera outbreak that weakened the Allied army throughout the initial phase of the campaign.12

 Image

Shipping at Balaklava Harbour, 1855.13

The Russian forces defending Sevastopol were eager to prevent the extended siege of the port and prepared a counter attack of the Allied beach-head. Early in October Russian infantry and artillery moved into position: Brigadier-General Airey, Lord Raglan’s Quartermaster-General,14 spotted a brigade size force, 5,000 men, as they moved towards the Allied positions on 3 October, a report complemented by reconnaissance from the 4th Dragoons that identified 3,500-4,000 cavalry on 7 October.15 The same day, Lord Raglan, General Airey and staff committed to reconnaissance of the Russian positions and a council of war was held in the evening.16 On 10 October four French battalions, 2,400 men, began construction of trenches and redoubts for their cannon to prepare for the siege.17

Image

Roger Fenton’s photograph of the Allied commanders: Lord Raglan, Omar Pasha and Marshal Pelissier.18

Allied reinforcements continued to pour in from the beach-head, despite the long range Russian batteries zeroed on the Balaklava approach.19 The British 2nd Division entrenched two miles from Sevastopol, supported by the 4th Division, and covered to the right by the 3rd Division and Light Division (Lt. General Sir George Brown)20 with the 1st Division outside Balaklava, the Royal Marines in garrison at the town itself.21 The Russian lines at this time were permeable, certain Polish soldiers defected and crossed the Allied lines with sensitive information.22

On 17 October Vice-Admiral Kornilov was mortally wounded when the Allied guns, in conjunction with a fleet sortie, bombarded Sevastopol in the opening phase of the siege that was to last for the next 13 months.23 Continuous shelling and skirmishing for the next three days highlighted the strength of Meshikov’s positions. On 20 October reports arrived from England that Sevastopol had fallen, propaganda which “excited great indignation and ludicrous astonishment” from the forces in theatre.24

 Image

Positions of Allied forces around Sevastopol, October 1854.25

On 25 October, Menshikov opened his counter-attack with 25,000 men, led by General Pavel Liprandi.26 William Howard Russell, war correspondent for The Times witnessed the battle of Balaklava and provided the account Lord Tennyson used as source material for his renowned poems.27

 Image

General Pavel Petrovitch Liprandi28

 The morning of 25 October, pursuant to their plan of attack, Russian artillery commenced bombardment of the Allied positions with shell. The Allied batteries at No. 1 redoubt fell and the Turkish gunners retreated, but were run down by Russian cavalry as they withdrew to No. 2 redoubt.29 A Russian cavalry charge carried No. 2 redoubt and the Turkish soldiers continued their retreat towards No. 3 redoubt, only to be likewise overrun. Russian gunners, well practiced in the rapid preparation of batteries,30 immediately secured the Allied batteries stationed in the captured redoubts and turned them against the Allied positions.31 These guns included advanced models capable of firing highly accurate rotating shells prior to the introduction of cannon rifling through a sophisticated ovoid barrel design, later employed against Sevastopol with deadly effect.32 The Turkish batteries abreast the French trenches and Allied naval batteries emplaced on the Balaklava heights ineffectively returned fire.33

The Turkish infantry, armed with the new Minie rifle, reformed when they fell back upon the positions occupied by Britain’s 93rd Highlander regiment. Upon engaging these positions, well formed, the Russian cavalry were forced to halt their advance and deployed at half a mile distance in brigade strength, 3,500 strong in preparation for a decisive charge.34 Opposite the Russian cavalry were the positions held by the 93rd regiment, bayonets fixed in a “thin red streak”- two lines deep- supported by the entire Allied cavalry force: the French cavalry and the British cavalry division under Lord Lucan: Brigadier-General Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade composed of the veteran Scots Greys, Enniskillens, 4th Royal Irish [Dragoon Guards], 5th Dragoon Guards, and 1st Royal Dragoons35 flanked by Lord Cardigan’s Light Brigade (Dragoons, Lancers, Hussars) on the left echelon.36

Image

“Major General George Charles Earl of Lucan, KCB, Commander of the Cavalry Division.”37

Russell vividly described the moments between the formation of the opposing lines, broken by sporadic shell bursts, and the thunderous ensuing charge of the Russian cavalry.38 The Turks fired rifle volleys at 800 and 600 yards.39 At 250 yards the 93rd regiment fired volley, breaking up the Russian charge at close range.40

The initial cavalry charge stopped short, General Liprandi developed a flanking manoeuvre against Raglan’s HQ (defended by the French Zouaves) positioned on the heights overlooking Balaklava. Liprandi planned to use his “corps d’elite- their light blue jackets embroidered with silver lace” for this coup de main.41 Observant of the weakness of the Allied position from his HQ on the heights above the precarious Allied position, Raglan dispatched orders for Lord Lucan to have Scarlett’s Heavy Brigade prepare a counter-charge.42 Russell, with his exclusive report for The Times in mind, watched from Raglan’s HQ as the opposing cavalry forces deployed.

The British charge, in what can only be described as a measure of incredulous courage, began when the “trumpets rang out … through the valley,” as the cavalry with the Greys and Enniskillens at the spear-point charged directly into the mass of veteran Russian cavalry and, with consummate skill, smashed through their lines.43

Tennyson immortalized this moment in his “Charge of the Heavy Brigade”44

Fell like a cannon-shot,

Burst like a thunderbolt,

Crash’d like a hurricane,

Broke thro’ the mass from below,

Drove thro’ the midst of the foe

With this devastating frontal assault underway, the 4th Dragoon Guards and 5th Dragoon Guards swung in from the flanks and completed the route of the Russian cavalry.45 No doubt Cannae was the central thought on Lucan’s mind at this point. Raglan dispatched his aide-de-camp, Lord Curzon, with congratulations- “Well done!”- intended for General Scarlett who had personally led the counter-charge.46 There were 35 British killed and wounded.47

Image

Major General the Hon. Sir James Scarlett, KCB, Commander of the Heavy Cavalry Brigade with Lt. Colonel Alexander Low, 4th Light Dragoons.48

Cardigan was now ordered to recaptured the Allied redoubts, defended by 30 to 40 captured guns.49 Russell described the orders that led to this attack: Brigadier Airey through Captain Nolan of the 15th Hussars, ordered Lucan “to advance” upon the Russian positions.50 Upon receipt of these orders, Lucan asked for clarification, to which Nolan was said to have replied, “’There are the enemy, and there are the guns,’ or words to that effect”.51 Lucan passed the order on to his brother-in-law, Cardigan, and thus Cardigan assumed he was to charge the mile and a half against the Russian cannon positioned in their emplacements. It was not yet 1100 hours.52 Spurred by the decisive victory of the Heavy Brigade, without delay, at 1110 the Light Brigade charged.53

Lord Cardigan recalled the charge in 1855: “We advanced down a gradual descent of more than three-quarters of a mile, with the batteries vomiting forth upon us shells and shot, round and grape, with one battery on our right flank and another on the left, and all the intermediate ground covered with the Russian riflemen; so that when we came to within a distance of fifty yards from the mouths of the artillery which had been hurling destruction upon us, we were, in fact, surrounded and encircled by a blaze of fire, in addition to the fire of riflemen upon our flanks.”54

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Lord Cardigan: James Thomas Brudenell.55

Russell editorialized: “Surely that handful [the Light Brigade, 636 men] were not going to charge an army in position? Alas! It was but too true- their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part- discretion.”56 The Russian cannon opened fire at 1,200 yards.57 Captain Nolan was killed as he led the first line.58 Riding alongside Nolan was Private James Lamb, 13th Light Dragoons: Lamb described Nolan receiving a mortal wound from one of the first Russian volleys then, still charging, disappeared into the gun smoke.59 The Russian gunners kept up fusillade fire of mixed canister and grape as the Light Brigade galloped in.60 Lamb himself was knocked unconscious and awoke unhorsed and lost in the dense smoke.61

 The Allied guns on the Balaklava heights fired counter-battery, although the Light Brigade had already broken through.62 Quoth Tennyson:

Plunged in the battery-smoke

Right thro’ the line they broke;

Cossack and Russian

Reel’d from the sabre-stroke

Shatter’d and sunder’d.63

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“Charge of the Light Cavalry Brigade” 1855 Lithographic print.64

Lamb saw Russian infantry forming up from the gun positions to add their rifle fire to the melee. He initially mistook the charge of the French Dragoons (see below) as another flanking attack by Cossacks.65

Russell described the appearance of “a regiment of [Russian] lancers” which counter-attacked at this point, although Colonel Shewell (8th Hussars) seeing the brigade’s exposed flank, immediately charged the approaching enemy.66 During this encounter with unquestionable courage and skill the Russian gunners rallied to the guns and fired grape directly into the general melee: Russell is unambiguous that it was this courageous act by the gunners that broke the Light Brigade.67 Covered by the Heavy Brigade, Cardigan retreated, clearing the guns by 1135. Lucan and Cardigan were both wounded, the latter by lance.68

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Four survivors from the 17th Lancers.69

Meanwhile, the French cavalry charged the Russian guns firing enfilade on the Light Brigade.70 One of these positions was covered by a regiment of Polish Lancers which the French Dragoons engaged despite suffering terrible casualties from incoming grape and canister.71 The Russian forces began to withdraw from the Allied redoubts: No. 1 was recaptured, and at 1115, as the melee between the Light Brigade and the Russian lancers occurred, No. 2 position was destroyed when the withdrawing Russian forces exploded its magazine.72 No. 3 position was abandoned but with great success as the Russians hauled off seven of the nine Allied guns emplaced there.73 The British had in total 13 officers killed and missing, 156 soldiers killed and missing and 21 officers and 197 men wounded. 520 horses had become casualties.74

Private Lamb’s calvary regiment was decimated, suffering nearly 50% casualties: “we went into action that morning 112 strong and came out with only 61.”75 Lamb, himself wounded, had difficulty returning to the Allied lines and once back found himself reported as killed.76

The Russians celebrated the victory at Sevastopol when the captured guns were added to their armoury. At 2100 a general barrage of the Allied position commenced although without effect.77

The assault of 25 October was followed by a brigade sized attack “4,000 Russians” against the 2nd Division’s position on the British right flank.78 The Russians again attempted to displace the 2nd Division on 5 November resulting in the Battle of Inkerman, a desperate close order affair, which Russell described as “the bloodiest struggle ever witnessed since war cursed the earth.”79

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“The Thin Red Line” by Mark Wells <http://www.coroflot.com/mark19/art> satirizing Robert Gibb’s 1881 portrayal80 of the 93rd Highlander Regiment at the “Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 3054… [sic]”81

2 Arthur Herman, To Rule The Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World, New York: HarperCollins’ Publishers, 2004, p 541

3 Nicholas Riasanovsky and Mark Steinberg, A History of Russia, Seventh Edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005, p 316

4 Eric Grove, The Royal Navy Since 1815, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, p 29

5 F. R. Bridge and Roger Bullen, The Great Powers and the European States System 1814-1914, Second Edition, Toronto: Pearson Education Limited, 2005, p 121

6 Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-First Century, second edition, Cass Series: Naval Policy and History, New York: Routledge, 2009, p 237; Andrew Lambert and Stephen Badsey, The Crimean War, The War Correspondents, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Bramley Books, 1997, p 90

7 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 90

8 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 93

9 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 96

11 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 88, 90

12 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 89-90; see also, John Sweetman, “‘Ad Hoc’ Support Services During The Crimean War, 1854-6: Temporary, Ill-Planned and Largely Unsuccessful,” in Military Affairs 52, no. 3 (July 1, 1988): 135

14 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p

15 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 89, 92-3

16 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 94

17 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 95

19 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 90

20 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 6 fn

21 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 90

22 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 93

23 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 96

24 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 102

25 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 99

26 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 103

27 Robert Hill, ed., Tennyson’s Poetry, Second Edition, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1999, p 307-8, 307 fn.

29 Roger Hudson, ed., William Russell: Special Correspondent of The Times, London: The Folio Society, 1995, p 28

30 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 91

31 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 28-9

32 J. F. C. Fuller, The Conduct of War: 1789-1961, New Brunswick, N. J.: Da Capo Press, 1992, p 89 fn

33 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

34 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

35 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

36 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

38 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

39 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 29

40 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 30

41 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 30

42 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 30

43 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 30-1

45 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 31

46 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 30-1

47 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 31

49 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 31

50 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 31-2

51 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 32

52 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 32

53 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 32

54 John France, Perilous Glory: The Rise of Western Military Power, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, p 232

56 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 32

57 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 32

58 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

59 James Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Strand Magazine: An Illustrated Monthly (July 1891): 348–351

60 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 348

61 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 348

62 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

63 Hill, ed., Tennyson’s Poetry, p 308

65 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 349

66 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

67 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

68 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

69 Hudson, ed., William Russell, between pages 30-31

70 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

71 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 349

72 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

73 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 33

74 Lambert & Badsey, The Crimean War, p 117

75 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 350

76 Lamb, “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” p 351

77 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 34

78 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 34

79 Hudson, ed., William Russell, p 34

81 <http://s3images.coroflot.com/user_files/individual_files/original_45080_whgILURoklUO1Ao1p3Ys6tIBk.jpg> See also Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-colonial Literatures, Routledge, 2002