April 16, 2021

Through the Valley of Death, the six hundred rode

Through the Valley of Death, the six hundred rode

"The noise of the cannons and howitzers that exploded was deafening. Also the smoke was almost blinding. In every direction men and horses fell, and the horses that were not wounded were so mad that we could not keep them in a straight line for a while. A man named Allread, who rode to my left, fell from his horse like a stone. I looked back and saw the poor man lying on his back, with his right temple torn off and part of his brain scattered on the ground. " The British army that landed in the Crimea in the autumn of 1854 suffered from multiple defects in organization, logistics and leadership, which would lead, on October 25, to an incomprehensible action: after the 93rd Highlanders Regiment (the famous "thin red line") and the Heavy Brigade of cavalry dismantled a Russian attack on the port of Balaclava, the only supply route for the British troops that, together with the French and Ottomans, had just put Sevastopol under siege; after that, a series of confusing orders led the 661 light brigade horsemen, commanded by the eccentric Lord Cardigan, to launch themselves in a mad and suicidal charge across the bottom of a valley against several Russian artillery batteries. The men of the 17th of Lanceros formed the first line along with the 13th of Light Dragons, followed by the 11th of Hussars in second and the 8th of Hussars and the 4th of Light Dragons in the rear.

Two kilometers of fire

For two kilometers, the fire of the Russian guns and guns caused havoc in the British cavalry squadrons that crossed the "valley of death". It was a calvary for both men and their horses. The Russian lieutenant Koribut-Kubitovich, who had a good view of the battlefield, spoke vividly of the charge: "The brave Englishmen quickly followed their commander. The Russians received them with canisters of shrapnel, and the infantry, who had formed in box, opened their ranks. Nothing could stop the English, nor the shrapnel fire, which swept away entire lines of soldiers, nor the bullets that buzzed about them like flies. They kept moving forward quickly ». There were no missing moments. Private Wightman, of the 17th Lancers, saw a cannonball tear off the head of his sergeant: "A direct shot decapitated him cleanly, but, nevertheless, for thirty meters more his decapitated body remained in the chair, with the spear at the ready, firmly clutched under his right arm ». And all that was only the first part of the ordeal, since the Light Brigade still had to seize the Russian guns and return to the British camp. When, after enduring the deadly fire of the artillery and the enemy marksmen, the battered squads of the Light Brigade finally reached the Russian guns, they launched themselves against the artillerymen and the enemy cavalry that waited behind. An officer of the 17th Lancers described what happened next: "We went ahead, we killed the artillerymen with their guns (the Russians kept firing until we were less than ten yards away from them), we continued, we broke a line of cavalry behind the guns and we pushed her against the third line. But we had burned our last cartridge. The Russians formed in four rows of depth, and our thin and disorderly ranks, and our burst horses could not attack them ». The terrible balance of losses of the unit (almost 300 between dead, wounded and prisoners, to which the loss of more than 450 of its precious mounts had to be added) supposed a hard moral blow for the British Army. Shortly after the battle, an officer of the 17th Lancer wrote: "All our dead and seriously wounded were left behind, and we do not know who are dead or prisoners. All this makes me feel miserable, even to write, but it is the pure truth ». The 17th of Lanceros was one of the units that came out worse than the shock, that one of his men, Corporal Thomas Morley, would compare with "riding inside the mouth of a volcano". The Light Brigade had ceased to exist, but it had earned immortality.


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