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Unread 06-01-2010, 03:43 PM
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Default Charge of the Light Brigade

From the Shrapnel Games May newsletter, which was issued a couple days ago:



"It is safe to say that while military errors have been a part of history since the dawn of war, it is indeed the rare battle to be immortalized in classic English literature, an Errol Flynn movie, and a great many other works of art. That suicidal cavalry charge during the Crimean War of tenacious British warriors charging straight into the Tsar's cannons, the Charge of the Light Brigade, may be a subject everyone has at least been touched by at one time or another in their life, but the reasons behind the fateful charge are often unknown.

The Crimean War was fought by the British, French, Turks, and the Russians. The war actually began in 1853 when Russia invaded Turkey under the pretext of protecting Orthodox Christians in Turkey. Earlier a riot had broken out between Roman Catholics (supported by France) and the Orthodox Church (supported by Russia) in Palestine and several Orthodox monks were slain.

How did Russia justify invading Turkey when the incident happened in Palestine? At the time Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and the constabulary consisted of Turks. The Russians accused the Turks of allowing the monks to be killed, and in turn invaded the provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia. In reality the truth of the matter was closer to the Russians were wanting access to the Mediterranean. Dead monks work just as well as a radio station being attacked, and so Russia and Turkey were soon at war.

In the meantime England was neutral in the matter, at least until the Russian fleet defeated the Turkish fleet on November 30th. At this point England was swept up in a fervor for war, and by 1854 the British, along with the French, were fighting alongside the Turks. Strangely, no one in England really understood why they were fighting, they just felt like they had to. Sort of like the Light Brigade.
The war lasted until March 1856, when the Treaty of Paris was signed and all combat operations ceased. In the end the Russians were beaten, at great cost and for little gain. In England, the reasons for the war were still as unclear as when the war had begun. Still, they were on the "winning" side, which had to count for something.

In a war that could be considered itself one big error, the Charge of the Light Brigade still manages to stick out as one huge FUBAR situation. The Charge happened during the battle of Balaclava, October 25th, 1854, which was shortly after the British entered the war. Almost from the start the war seemed like something from seventy years in the future. Very World War I in nature, the Crimean War was one of attrition, fortified positions, and sieges.

It was common practice on both sides to make raids from their fortified positions. On that fateful day the Russians sortied out to probe a Turkish redoubt, which promptly caused the Turks to flee. The British supreme commander, Lord Raglan, watched helplessly from his position as the Russians began to cart away their war booty from the now vacated redoubt; British naval guns and ammunition were their prize.

Lord Raglan was furious. The guns must not be allowed to fall into Russian hands! So he had one of his generals scratch out a hasty order to recapture the guns. Haste makes waste though and the order as it was written offered few clues to what it was trying to say. The order read:
"Ld. Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front - follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate!"
It was handed to the general's aide-de-camp, Captain Lewis Nolan, who was to deliver it to the Light Brigade's commanders, Lords Lucan and Cardigan. Nolan unfortunately hated both Lucan and Cardigan, which didn't help the situation.

Nolan delivered the order to Lucan. Because of where they were Lucan could not see the cannon being captured as Raglan had been able to, and had no idea what the order was referring to. Reading the order carefully Lucan looked about and wondered exactly what cannons were they supposed to prevent from being carrying away. Were Russian gunners in retreat? Was that the plan?

Asking Nolan did little good. Nolan, in the presence of a fellow officer he did not like, threw one arm up in anger and waved it in the general direction of the Russian lines before trotting off and leaving Lucan perplexed. The only guns he could see were at the north end of a valley, protected by cavalry. Those must be the guns he thought, and went to consult Cardigan.


Cardigan gently pointed out that besides running straight into the maw of the cannons at the end of the valley, both flanks were also covered by artillery and rifles. Lucan shrugged. An order was an order. The charge was to happen.

The enemy in the valley consisted of twelve guns with several squadrons of Russian cavalry at the north end, and along the flanks were four more squadrons of cavalry, nineteen infantry battalions, and forty-six cannon. The valley itself was about a mile long. It was obvious death. But an order was an order.

The brigade was drawn up into two lines. Lord Cardigan signaled the charge and the lines moved out at a trot. The guns lay silent.

Captain Nolan saw what was happening. He realized that they were going the wrong way and maneuvered to halt the advance. Nolan charged ahead of the lines and began to shout and wave his sword around. At that moment the Russians opened fire and the valley was transformed into an abattoir. Nolan was struck down in the opening volley, the last chance for the Light Brigade to save itself dying with him.

Now under heavy fire the trot became a proper charge. Cannon and rifle fire slammed into the troopers, as shattered bodies--both man and horse--were flung about the valley floor. The generals from their perch could see what was happening but could do nothing. Some actually cried at the bravery of the sacrifice they were witnessing.

The brigade that eventually reached the Russian guns on the north end of the valley was not the same brigade that had begun the charge. Of the nearly seven hundred men (Tennyson may claim six hundred, but it was more like six hundred and seventy three) only a little less than two hundred survived, the rest slaughtered on the attack. Those left fought the Russian gunners tooth and nail, butchering them in an orgy of rage. With the Russian cavalry still about the survivors could not dawdle, and the Light Brigade remnants retreated. The Russian cavalry, for unknown reasons, only gave a half-hearted attempt at bottling the British in. The brigade made it back to friendly lines.

Lord Cardigan was actually already back. He had led the charge but as soon as the ensuing melee took place he left to report back to Raglan. After all, it was not a lord's job to fight when he had his soldiers to do it for him.
Raglan was furious, but Cardigan merely used the excuse soldiers had always used, and continue to use: he was only following orders. With that he retired to his yacht (besides not wanting to fight with the common soldier Cardigan didn't deem it necessary to camp with the common soldier). Raglan eventually calmed down and shifted the blame to Lord Lucan. Lucan also complained that he was simply following orders. Eventually it was Nolan that took the brunt of the blame. After all, a corpse will never deny they were at fault.

Looking back it is obvious that the Charge of the Light Brigade, with its subsequent loss of over five hundred men, never had to happen. At several points disaster could have been averted if only someone took a moment to inquire further. The massacre was sealed though when Nolan, the only officer who knew the full extent of the orders, was cut down while trying to get Cardigan to turn back. Such are the fortunes of war, or should we say, misfortunes..."
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Unread 06-02-2010, 12:45 AM
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To say that Lord Cardigan & Lord Raglan were rivals and hated each other was a vast understatement. Their rivalry had been going on for years and years and everyone knew it. These two should never of been allowed to serve in the same army group, let alone have one in a position of authority over another. This was a monumental error made by the higher authorities in the British military.{FYI - This (The Charge of The Light Brigade) is the main reason why the British army stopped selling officers commisions to the upper class and started awarding them to men who earned them on merit}

Their hatred for one another is the key and main factor in the cause of the charge.
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