The camp of the 5th Dragoon Guards in the Crimea in 1855.
Click here to read about the Russian Army at Inkerman.
Diarists suggest that most of the casualties at Inkerman were caused by artillery, and, considering the number of guns present, that is hardly a surprise. British gunners were equipped with four 9-pound guns and two 24-pound howitzers per field battery. Two such batteries were dug-in on Home Ridge, but during the day, extra guns arrived, including two 18-pound siege howitzers and a number of French batteries.
There is no question that the Royal Artillery crews were first-class, for their casualties reflected the devotion with which they served the guns. The ordnance they fired was exactly the same as that of the Russians, the most remarkable thing being the number of British guns that survived the intense enemy bombardment.
A Royal Fusilier at the time of the Crimean War
Inkerman’s nickname, though, ‘the soldiers’ battle’, reflects the extraordinary bravery and resourcefulness of the individual subalterns, NCOs, and men who fought with an initiative wholly at odds with both their enemy and their training. True, skirmishing had been taught to most of the troops engaged in the Crimea; but the eight companies – often organised as two half-battalion wings – still manoeuvred as they might have done in the Peninsula when armed with smooth-bored flintlocks.
It was the percussion Minie rifle, though, that gave the British infantry the edge. With the exception of the 4th Division, all ranks at Inkerman were armed with a rifled weapon that was highly accurate at 300yd and still lethal at over 1,000yd – so foot soldiers were suddenly capable of picking off gun crews at the same range as the artillery piece itself. This goes some way to explaining remarkable feats of arms such as that of Lieutenant Acton at the close of the battle. But it should be remembered, too, that many small-arms were unserviceable due to the rain and damp, an extraordinarily high proportion of wounds being inflicted with the bayonet.
What made the 10-year British volunteer fight so hard? Certainly, men showed great loyalty to their regiments, which had not just a number but a county title as well – thus, the 30th (Cambridgeshire) Regiment – but there was also a real camaraderie between officers and men that is often forgotten. For instance, Private Murphy of the 95th stayed with his unhorsed and wounded adjutant, Captain MacDonald, despite hordes of Russians threatening to overrun them. Even when MacDonald ordered him to save himself, he objected strongly, saying, ‘But what will others say if I leave you here, Your Honour?’
And there was another factor. If the Russians were past their fighting best, the British were in their prime. Only one battalion, 2nd Rifle Brigade, had seen active service before, so most of the men were new to war, having learnt their trade at Alma and Little Inkerman – yet with enough courage left in stock to allow them to be daring. As Sergeant Bloomfield recalled of his comrades 40 years later, ‘There was no holding the boys that day, for they had their dander up!’