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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report VII

From the course known to have been pursued by the Russians in other cases, the nature of the ground, the appearance of the works at the close of the siege, and the remarks of officers on both sides, it would appear that when Todtleben was called upon to fortify Sebastopol, in presence of the enemy, he commenced by occupying most of the important points that have been mentioned by detached works, generally closed at the gorge. The first efforts of the garrison were directed towards giving these sufficient strength to resist assault ; afterwards they were connected by re-entering lines of a weaker profile, which served to enfilade the ravines and flank the main works. These lines were generally, but not always, continuous.
One of the early measures was to construct rifle pits, which were often advanced to a very considerable distance.
The most important points of the main line of defence should probably be classed in the following order of strength: 1st. The Flag-staff Bastion; 2d. Central Bastion; 3d. Malakoff; 4th. Eedan; 5th. Little Redan.
The Flag-staff Bastion was, on account of the ground, a somewhat irregular figure- nearly a lunette. The ditch of the right face was flanked by two guns in a blinded caponiere; the left face was flanked by four guns, in a return of the epaulment which extended from the rear of the work along the crest of the central ravine, and finally down to the bottom of the valley. The command of the work could not have varied much from 15'. The ditch was about 30' wide, and from 12' to 15' deep; its slopes steep, often vertical. Against a portion of the scarp, near the salient, rested a row of palisades some 10' high, and uninjured by the fire. This was the only case of palisading observed in any part of the ditches. The work was provided with a glacis and covered way, the interior slope of the latter revetted with gabions. Shelters were excavated in the counterscarp, under the covered way. There was a small battery in the covered way of the left face. It was in front of this bastion that the principal mining operations were conducted: on the part of the French to advance their approaches, on the part of the Russians to frustrate the attempt. The craters were from 12' to 15' in depth, and in a very rocky soil. The French never succeeded in carrying the work, nor in crowning the crest of the glacis.
Some portions of the exterior slope were revetted with gabions. These were sadly disfigured, but still presented a formidable obstacle. It is most probable that this system was resorted to only as a rapid means of repairing damages.
The guns were mounted on a narrow rampart, with traverses for each gun, and parados on the right face. Here, as well as in all the other land defences, ships' guns mounted on ships' carriages, and worked by side tackle and breechings, were alone employed. In this battery many of the embrasures were revetted with the common boiler iron ships' water tanks, cubes 4' on each edge. These were filled with earth, and three were employed to revet each cheek. In one embrasure thirteen shot and shell had struck a cheek thus revetted, yet the embrasure was perfectly serviceable. In some cases traverses were made of these tanks. Their sides were sometimes used instead of the rope mantelets. The rope mantelets were suspended from a horizontal spar laid across the top of the embrasure and lashed to stout stakes; they were 4" thick and made of three thicknesses of rope sewed together. A hole was left in the lower part for the gun to run through, and often a circle of similar construction was placed upon the gun, a small aperture being left for pointing. This arrangement was rendered indispensable by the great depth of embrasure required for ships' carriages, and was found to afford ample protection against rifle balls and small grape.
The bomb proofs were generally ample in number; they were sometimes under the rampart, sometimes under the second line of defence, (where such a line existed,) often under special traverses, and occasionally entirely under ground. Their height was generally 6' and upwards, the width sufficient for two rows of banquette beds, the length varied exceedingly; the roof was generally composed of 18" timber, for the most part pieces of masts; the minimum depth of earth on top seemed to be 6'. As I observed none which were broken in by shells, it may be a fair inference that this depth was sufiicient.
Many of the bomb proofs were lined with boards, had fire places and chimneys, were well ventilated, and whitewashed. Latrines were arranged in special bomb proofs, moveable casks with seats over them being employed.
The Flag-staff Bastion had a second line of defence, which was filled with bomb proofs.
The Central was similar in construction to, yet weaker in profile than, the Flag-staff Bastion; its steep scarp and counterscarp rendered it, indeed, a formidable obstacle to assault; with such defenders as the Russians, it is no discredit to the French that their patient yet brilliant efforts failed to achieve success. The loopholed wall was either covered by a rampart and parapet, or entirely replaced by a simple parapet; wherever it remained exposed it was much injured by the long cannonade to which it was subjected.
The Quarantine Redans were little more than a simple trench, with the gabionade thrown forward about 3', thus affording a banquette; the soil in this part was even more rocky than in front of the bastions just described.
The strength of profile of the works east of the central ravine was very much less than that of the Flag-staff and Central Bastions. The remembrance of the history of the progress of the siege will explain the seeming anomaly that points, now generally considered of secondary importance, should be more strongly fortified than those which common opinion pronounces the key points of the position. Until the spring of 1855 all the efforts of the French were directed against the Flag-staff and Central Bastions; and for some reason or other (probably the languor with which their approaches were pushed) the Russians seemed to attach very little importance to the operations of the English. It was therefore natural and proper that the Russians should avail themselves of the time employed by the allies in preparing to open their fire, and of the slackness of the fire during the winter, to turn all their efforts upon the points attacked. It is probable that serious work upon the Malakoff scarcely commenced before the French opened their trenches against it; it was therefore carried on under much more unfavorable circumstances.
In the leisurely construction of a system of permanent defences for Sebastopol, the neglect of the Malakoff and Sapoune ridges would have been indeed inexcusable; but the actual works were constructed for the most part under fire, and always in sight of the enemy. The garrison was for along time weak for so extensive a position, and the supply of tools was always inadequate in amount and wretched in quality; looking at their miserable tools, it was a source of astonishment that such gigantic results could have been achieved with such paltry means.
The Redan was more properly a salient bastion, and appearances indicated that it was originally a detached lunette, closed at the gorge by a bastioned front, having a good ditch, banquette, &c.; in fact, this gorge front still existed in fair condition at the close of the siege, the left half bastion alone having for some reason been nearly levelled. The Redan was afterwards connected with the Barrack battery on the one hand, and on the other extended by the line of works crowning the western crest of the Otchakoff ravine. The nature of the ground, espeeially near the salient, was such that the scarp and counterscarp were more gentle than in the bastions already described. Without pretending to enter into details which would necessarily be imperfect, the best practical idea of the real nature of the work will be derived from the fact that, although no breach was made, the English, on the 8th September, entered the work without using the ladders. The details of the interior were similar to those of the Flagstaff Bastion, the guns being covered by traverses and parados, which formed shelters very favorable to an attacking column after it had once effected an entrance. It should be distinctly stated that the Redan had no second line of defence.
 In front the ground has a very gentle slope and is unobstructed; the works connecting the Redan with the Barrack battery border the precipitous side of the great ravine; the ground occupied by the work itself slopes gently from the salient towards the gorge; in rear it falls rapidly towards the inner harbor, but somewhat less so to the north, so that access is not very difficult from that direction.
In the immediate vicinity of the Redan there was a series of remarkable bomb proofs, excavated in the solid rock: first, a ditch 12' wide and 4' deep was excavated; then holes for a couple of men each were formed on each side of the ditch, each hole being 6' long, 5' high, and 3' wide.
In the same locality arrangements were observed for firing cannister from a 13" mortar.
The line of works extending from the Redan along the crest of the Otchakoff ravine varied much at different points;  in some places the ditch was excavated to the depth of 6' and 8' in the rock, in others the counterscarp was wholly artificial; portions of the abattis still remained in front of this line. This line did not extend continuously to the Malakoff, but was broken where it crossed the Otchakofi" ravine, detached retired batteries enfilading the latter.
The Malakoff also was a salient bastion, its right face being slightly broken to the front; the bastion enclosed the remains of the tower, the lower story of which was covered by the parapet.
An ample estimate for the profile of the Malakoff at the salient would probably be, command 14'; thickness of parapet, 18'; ditch, 18' wide and 12' deep. At all events, such was the condition of affairs that the Zouaves, who formed the storming party on the 8th September, entered the work without the aid of ladders.
The Malakoff Bastion (called by the Russians Korniloff, the name Malakoff being applied by them only to the tower) occupied the eastern crest of a hill rising from the general surface of the ridge, and terminating it towards the town; the slope of the hill towards the French approaches was gentle, while towards the Karabelnaia suburb it was steep, difiicult, and obstructed in the extreme; to the north and south the ground fell away rapidly. In rear of the bastion an irregular redoubt occupied the remainder of the summit of the hill; the parapet did not always follow the ditch, but was often broken into saw teeth (to obtain better directions for the guns) while the ditch ran in a straight line. With regard to the bastion and redoubt two errors were commited: in the first place, two epaulments were left standing, extending from near the flanks of the bastion to the redoubt, which afforded easy access to the latter from the parapet of the former; in the second place, the bastion was literally filled with traverses covering the bomb proof shelters; these traverses entirely nullified the effect of the fire of the redoubt upon the troops who gained the bastion, and afforded them complete shelter. As these bomb proofs were absolutely necessary to enable the garrison to hold the work during the bombardment, it is not perhaps exactly proper to designate their construction as an error, although their existence proved fatal at the time of the assault. The evil might have been remedied either by sinking the bomb proofs entirely under ground, or by giving to the mass of earth above a glacis slope towards the salient, although the latter arrangement would have required much space. The interior slopes of all the works were revetted with gabions, crowned with fascines and sand bags. From the Malakoff to the Little Redan abattis, military pits, spikes and caltrops, with four barbed points, stuck through planks, were freely employed. These things were also employed in front of other parts of the defences. Explosive machines, on the Jacobi principle, were also employed.
The Russian engineers appeared to have relied upon the artillery fire of the collateral works for flanking defences and acting upon the ground in front of any particular work, rather than upon the immediate flanking arrangements of the special work in question. The entire absence of blinded batteries is somewhat remarkable. There can be no doubt that such batteries at the salients of the principal works would have exercised a very great influence.
The Mamelon Vert* was situated on the summit of a mound of no considerable elevation above the general surface of the ridge; the eastern slope was gentle, while it was more abrupt on the other sides, particularly towards the west. It was difficult or impossible to determine the original form of the work. It appeared to have been a redan, with a pan-coupe, the right face flanked by the Malakoff, the left by the Little Redan, the pan-coupe by the Sapoune redoubts; yet it is not improbable that it was a lunette. The Sapoune redoubts appear to have been lunettes, with a command of 7', the ditch 5' deep and 12' wide, a glacis 2' in height. Even in these detached works excellent bomb proofs were provided.
The Russian counter-approaches generally consisted of fleches, united by a simple trench.
The famous rifle pits varied much in character. Sometimes they consisted merely of a little pile of stones, or two gabions, placed on their sides, forming an angle merely sufficient to shelter one man; at other times, of a hole in the ground for four or five men; again, of semicircles or fleches capable of holding from ten to forty men.
In front of the Volhynian redoubt there were two lines of these semicircular shelters, uniting at an acute angle about two hundred and fifty yards in advance of the work, and extending across the ridge. In advance of the angle were two rows of small ones for one or two men each. These particular semicircles were eight paces wide at the gorge, had a parapet 4' high, the interior being excavated. In many cases these pits were thrown much further in advance, and in very exposed situations. They contributed very materially towards impeding the progress of the approaches.
From the preceding hasty and imperfect account of the defences of Sebastopol, it will appear how little foundation there was for the generally received accounts of the stupendous dimensions of the works, and of new systems of fortifications brought into play. The plain truth is that these defences were simple temporary fortifications of rather greater dimensions than usual, and that not a single new principle of engineering was there developed. It is true that there were several novel minor details, such as the rope mantelets, the use of the iron tanks, &c.; but the whole merit consisted in the admirable adaptation of well known principles to the peculiar locality and circumstances of the case. Neither can it be asserted that the plans of the various works were perfect. On the contrary, there is no impropriety in believing that, if Todtleben were called upon to do the same work over again, he would probably introduce better close flanking arrangements.
These remarks are not intended to, nor can they, detract from the reputation of the Russian engineer. His labors and their results will be handed down in history as the most triumphant and enduring monument of the value of fortifications, and his name must ever be placed in the first rank of military engineers. But in our admiration of the talent and energy of the engineer, it must not be forgotten that the inert masses which he raised would have been useless without the skilful artillery and heroic infantry who defended them. Much stronger places than Sebastopol have often fallen under far less obstinate and well combined attacks than that to which it was subjected. There can be no danger in expressing the conviction that the siege of Sebastopol called forth the most magnificent defence of fortifications that has ever yet occurred.

 -To assist in understanding some of the terminology in this section, I suggest A treatise on fortification ..., as well as an Introductory Essay to the Study of Fortification by Captain Hector Straith who was the  professor of Fortification and Artillery at the Military Seminary, Addiscombe.

*yes, that does mean "Green Nipple."

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