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Siege of Sevastopol (1854–55) – Crimean War

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The Siege of Sevastopol 1854-1855 was a siege of the Russian Port of Sevastopol during the Crimean War. Sevastopol did not have a prepared defense of the city from land. It was attacked by an Anglo-French combined army landing that outnumbered the defenders 10 to 1, and a fleet that was more than three times superior. Defensive fortifications were established on the southern side of the city, while the entrance from the sea to Sevastopol Bay was blocked by submerged ships. Allies of the anti-Russian coalition – England, France, and Turkey   – expected that the city would be captured in a week, but they underestimated the resilience of the defending Russian troops. The siege lasted 11 months. During the siege, the Allies conducted six massive artillery bombardments from land and sea.

Founded by the Russian Empire in 1784, the city of Sevastopol was an important strategic point for both the defense and offense of the Black Sea. By the beginning of the Crimean War, Sevastopol, as the main military port in the south of Russia, was equipped with everything necessary to ensure the fleet’s operations. There were admiralty, docks, an arsenal, food stores, storage of guns, gunpowder and other supplies, fleet barracks and two hospitals. In the city, there were up to 2,000 stone houses and up to 40,000 inhabitants almost exclusively Russians.

The defense of Sevastopol demonstrated the skillful organization of active defense, based on the interaction of ground forces and the fleet. Its characteristic features were continuous attacks, night searches, mine warfare, close fire exchanges of ship and fortress artillery.

The conditions of the area where Sevastopol was located allowed a formidable defense from the sea, but at the same time made it extremely difficult to defend from the land. The city, divided by Sevastopol Bay into two parts, northern and southern, required for its defense a relatively large number of troops.

Prior to the siege, measures to strengthen the defense were undertaken on the southern side of Sevastopol. The strongest fortification was Bastion 6, although its’ construction remained incomplete. On the construction of Bastion 5, nothing was done, and only the tower erected was adapted to artillery defense and equipped with 11 guns. The defensive wall between Bastions 7, 5 and 6 was completed and armed with guns.

The campaign of 1854

In July of 1854, superior forces of the Allied fleet (England, France, Turkey, and Sardinia) blocked the Russian fleet in the bay of Sevastopol. The allied army was delivered to shore: 60,000 men, 134 field artillery and 72 siege weapons. Of the total number of allies, about 30,000 were French, about 22,000 British, and 7,000 Turks.

In the battle of Alma, the Allies defeated the Russian army, attempting to block their way to Sevastopol. Russian troops were forced to retreat.  An important decision was made: to flood the oldest ships at the entrance to the bay – and use their artillery to strengthen the garrison.

Having exaggerated information about the strength of Russian fortifications on the northern side of Sevastopol, the French decided to bypass the city and attack its southern side, which, according to available information, was weakly fortified. The defense of Sevastopol was entrusted for the first time to Vice Admirals Nakhimov and Kornilov.

At that time, the Allies’ material situation was very bad: cholera produced severe devastation in the ranks, there was a shortage of food. In order to supply themselves with food, they sent several steamships to Yalta, raided the city and its surroundings, but relatively few lived. During the siege, the Allies endured great losses from the garrison’s artillery and from frequent raids, which were carried out with remarkable courage.

On October 5, the first bombardment of Sevastopol followed, both from land and sea. During this bombardment, only English batteries managed to gain success against the 3rd Bastion; in general, the cannon fire of the allies did not succeed, despite the huge number of shells fired.

The bombing did not bring any benefit to the allies; on the contrary, their situation became more difficult than before, and they had to give up any hope of an easy victory. On the contrary, the Russians’ confidence in the possibility of a successful fight against a powerful opponent had increased. In the ensuing days, the fire on both sides continued with varying effectiveness. However, the French managed to advance their siege operations considerably.

On November 5, the Inkerman battle took place, in which Russian troops had initial success, but despite courage shown by the troops, the timely reinforcement of the French units tipped the balance to the allies.

Defense of 1855

Although by early 1855 Russian forces near Sevastopol were superior to the Allied forces, and despite the fact that Emperor Nicholas urgently demanded decisive actions from Menshikov, the latter was slow and missed any opportunity. Emperor Nicholas decided to replace Prince Menshikov, and appoint Prince Gorchakov in his place.

In 1855, the battle on Malakhov Hill in Sevastopol raged.

Meanwhile, the Allies received new reinforcements, increasing their forces near Sevastopol to 120,000. At the same time, a skilled French engineer, General Niel, arrived, giving new direction to the siege work.

The siege continued with the same persistence. However, superiority began to lean to the side of the Anglo-French troops. Soon, new reinforcements began to arrive, and their forces in the Crimea increased to 170,000

Prince Gorchakov was losing hope of saving Sevastopol, and he was thinking of how to retreat the garrison out of there without great losses. The brutal artillery fire continued uninterrupted. French and British troops rushed to storm the fortifications but were repulsed.

On August 27, after a devastating fire, the Allies moved to storm at noon. French seized all defensive positions. Russians had great courage and repulsed the attack, but further defense of Sevastopol was no longer possible. Therefore, Prince Gorchakov decided to leave Sevastopol, and during the night he transferred his troops to the north side. The city’s powder cellars were blown up, and the military vessels in the bay were flooded.

Losses and Effects

During 11 months of siege, the Allies lost at least 70,000 men, not counting those who died from disease. The Russian defense of Sevastopol cost 93,625 troops. The high level of losses of Russian troops was also due to the unsatisfactory organization of medical services. The loss of the symbol of the Russian presence and the main military port on the Black Sea was a great blow for many in Russia, both in the army and home, and contributed to the quick end of the war.

Sources:

  • Eastern War // Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
  • The Eastern War of 1853-56. // Military honor – Military gymnastics
  • Totleben EI Description of the defense of Sevastopol: In 2 parts
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