Balaklava, Ukraine (1854 AD)
The Battle of Balaklava was a pivotal engagement of the Crimean War and, though not the most decisive, it easily became the most famous. Part of the allied campaign to capture the strategic Black Sea port of Sevastopol, it pitted a combined force of British, French and Turkish troops against a much larger Russian army trying to break out of the encirclement of the city. Balaklava was a strategic draw, with the siege of Sevastopol remaining intact. However, thanks to the writer Lord Tennyson, the part of the battle known as The Charge Of The Light Brigade became immortalized as one of the most infamous blunders in military history.
Of all of the smaller European wars of the 19th century, the Crimean War may have been the oddest and most unlikely. Essentially a territorial fight between the expanding Russian Empire and the declining Ottoman Empire, it was also orchestrated by the British and French who sought to use the conflict as a way to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Interestingly, they sided with the Ottomans, a long-term threat to Europe, against the Russians, their future ally in the World Wars.
Although there were several theaters of the war, the fight over the Crimean peninsula, which juts out into the Black Sea, was the most famous and important. In 1854, after a successful campaign in the Balkans, the allies turned to the Crimea and landed an expeditionary force there with the objective of conquering the port of Sevastopol. By September Sevastopol was under siege by powerful forces on land and at sea.
By October, however, large forces of Russian reserves had arrived in the Crimea, where they sought to break the siege of Sevastopol. Their strategic target was the smaller port of Balaklava, which the allies were using as a base and for resupply. Although the allies were well entrenched, the Russians attacked with an army five times larger, and with considerably more artillery. However, although they took heavy casualties, the allies stood firm and held their positions along what later became known as the Thin Red Line.
The most famous part of the battle was the Charge of the Light Brigade. This action, an attempt to counterattack the Russian artillery positions, was initiated solely by accident due to a miscommunication. Over 600 British light cavalrymen charged straight into withering cannon fire. Somehow, miraculously, some of them made it across the field and nearly broke the ranks of the Russians before being forced to retire. This unnecessary charge which resulted in extremely high casualties has since become infamous in the annals of military history.
The Battle of Balaklava was fought around the small port. The two most famous places are the site where the Thin Red Line of Scottish Highlanders held their ground and where the Light Brigade made its charge. These locations are well marked and popular visitor destinations. The most prominent battle-related site is the obelisk-monument in Balaklava honoring the allied war dead.
The Balaklava battlefield sites are scattered to the north of Balaklava, amid a series of hills and valleys, approximately ten miles south of Sevastopol. The Thin Red Line site is just outside of town, while the Light Brigade site is a little further north. The Crimean War monument is in a valley in between. There is no charge of admission to any of the battle sites. Web: www.travelukraine.org (official tourism website of Ukraine).
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