The Battle of The Alma
War: Crimean War
Date: 20th September 1854
Place: Crimea in the Ukraine
Combatants: British, French and Turkish troops against the
Imperial Russian Army.
Sergeant Luke O'Connor of the Royal Welch Fusiliers winning the
Victoria Cross at the Alma leading the charge of his regiment with
the Queen's Colour which he seized from the hands of Lieutenant
Harry Anstruther, shot dead as he entered the Great Russian Battery.
Sergeant O'Connor subsequently rose to the rank of Field Marshal,
the only soldier to serve in every rank in the British Army.
Generals: General the Earl of Raglan commanded the British
Army, General Saint-Arnaud commanded the French Army. Prince
Menshikov commanded the Russian Army.
Officers of the 17th Regiment
Size of the armies: The British Army comprised 26,000
infantry, 1,000 cavalry (the Light Brigade; the Heavy Brigade did
not land in the Crimea in time for the battle) and 60 guns. The
French Army comprised 28,000 infantry, no cavalry and 72 guns. The
Turkish contingent comprised 7,000 infantry, no cavalry and an
unknown number of guns. The Russian Army was made up of 33,000
infantry, 3,400 cavalry and120 guns.
Uniforms, arms and equipment: See the Crimean uniform
Winner: The British and French
British Order of Battle:
Commander in Chief: Field Marshal Lord Raglan
The Cavalry Division: General the Earl of Lucan
Troop of Royal Horse Artillery
Light Brigade: Major-General the Earl of Cardigan
4th Light Dragoons
13th Light Dragoons
First Division: the Duke of Cambridge
Two field batteries Royal Artillery
Guards Brigade: General Bentinck
3rd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards
1st Battalion, Scots Fusilier Guards
Highland Brigade: Major General Sir Colin Campbell
The Scots Fusilier Guards Colour Party leads the regiment's attack
on the Great Russian Battery. Lieutenant Lindsay carries the
Queen's Colour; Lieutenant Thistlethwayte carries the Regimental
Colour. Of the party, Lieutenant Lindsay, Sergeants McKechnie and
Knox and Private Reynolds were awarded the Victoria Cross. The
Queen's Colour received 24 bullet holes and the staff was shot in
Click here or image to buy a print
Second Division: Lieutenant-General Sir de Lacy Evans
Two field batteries Royal Artillery
Third Brigade: Brigadier-General Adams
Fourth Brigade: Brigadier-General Pennefather
Third Division: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard England
Two field batteries Royal Artillery
Fifth Brigade: Brigadier-General Sir John Campbell
4th King’s Own Royal Regiment
Sixth Brigade: Brigade-General Eyre
1st Royal Regiment
Fourth Division: Major-General Sir George Cathcart
One field batteries Royal Artillery
Officer of the 79th Cameron Highlanders
Seventh Brigade: Brigadier-General Torrens
21st Royal Scots Fusiliers
(57th Regiment, which did not land until after the battle)
Light Division: Lieutenant-General Sir George Brown
One troop of Royal Horse Artillery and one field battery Royal
2nd Battalion the Rifle Brigade.
First Brigade (known as the Fusilier Brigade): Major-General
7th Royal Fusiliers
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers
Second Brigade: Major-General Buller
The Battle of the Alma
4th Light Dragoons: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.*
8th Hussars: now the Queen’s Royal Hussars.*
11th Hussars: now the King’s Royal Hussars.*
13th Light Dragoons: now the Light Dragoons.*.
17th Lancers: now the Queen’s Royal Lancers.*
The Coldstream Guards storm
the Great Russian Battery
Scots Fusilier Guards:*
1st Royal Regiment, the Royal Scots.*
4th King’s Own Royal Regiment: now the King’s Own Royal Border
19th Regiment: now the Green Howards.*
20th Regiment: now the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.*
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers.*
28th Regiment: now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and
30th Regiment: now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.*
33rd Regiment: now the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.*
38th Regiment: now the Staffordshire Regiment.*
41st Regiment: now the Royal Regiment of Wales.*
42nd Highlanders, the Black Watch (the Royal Highland Regiment).*
44th Regiment: now the Royal Anglian Regiment.
47th Regiment: now the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment.
49th Regiment: now the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and
50th Regiment: now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.*
55th Regiment: now the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment.*
63rd Regiment: now the King’s Regiment.*
68th Regiment: now the Light Infantry.*
77th Regiment: now the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.*
79th Highlanders: now the Highlanders.*
88th Regiment, the Connaught Rangers, disbanded in 1922.*
93rd Highlanders: now the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.*
95th Regiment: now the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters
Rifle Brigade: now the Royal Green Jackets.*
* These regiments have the Alma as a battle honour.
The French order of battle:
The four divisions of General Bosquet, General Canrobert, Prince
Napoleon and General Forey.
General Bosquet's artillery and Zouaves crossing the Alma River
at Almatamak before climbing onto the Heights
The British and French armies landed on the Crimean Peninsular
on 14th September 1854 intending to capture the Russian naval base
of Sevastopol on the South West of the Crimea (see main map on
Crimea site). The landing took place on the western Crimean coast
some fifteen miles to the north of the port.
French Zouaves and Turcos storming the ravine south of Bourliouk in
support of the British 2nd Division during the Battle of the Alma
The road down the coast to Sevastopol crossed four rivers flowing
east to west into the Black Sea; the Bulganek, the Alma, the Katelia
and the Belbeck.
The Light Division crossing the Alma River to storm the
Alma Heights: the Rifle Brigade skirmishing to the fore
The allied army (British, French and Turkish) began the march
south from the landing site on 19th September 1854. The French army
marched by the coast with the Turkish contingent in its midst. The
British in two columns took the inland flank. The Light Brigade of
cavalry provided a screen to the front and left flank. Ships of the
British and French navies sailed parallel and in advance of the
A skirmish took place as the allied army crossed the Bulganek on the
first day of the 25 mile march to Sevastopol. As the Russians
withdrew from the hills beyond the river Lord Lucan sought to pursue
them with the Light Brigade but was ordered to withdraw by Lord
Raglan. The allied armies encamped on the high ground beyond the
It was on the River Alma that the Russian general, Prince
Menshikov, resolved to make his stand, taking advantage of the high
ground along the south bank.
The axis of the advance was the post road which followed the
coastline from Eupatoria in the North of the Crimea to Sevastopol.
The country was open rolling grassland enabling the troops to march
on either side of the road.
Russian Artillery in action
On 20th September 1854 the allied armies continued their march in
the same formations. At about midday a warship steaming in advance
of the armies opened a bombardment on the shore. The armies reach
the top of one of the low ridges that lay along the line of march
and the valley of the Alma opened before them.
The Foot Guards attacking the Great Russian Battery.
Three villages lay along the near bank of the river; Almatamak in
front of the French; Bourliouk in the centre of the advance and
Tarkhanlar to the left of the British. The post road crossed the
Alma to the inland side of Bourliouk and ascended into the hills
beyond the river.
Along the high ground on the far side of the Alma lay the Russian
Army in strength intending to give battle in defence of Sevastopol.
The main body of Menshikov’s force lay on Kourgané Hill in front of
the British Army’s centre, covered by a battery of 8 heavy siege
guns at the front of its position. These guns were the focal point
of the Russian defence and became known as the “Great Russian
Battery” or the “Greater Redoubt”. Immediately beyond Bourliouk the
Russian reserves occupied a hill with a telegraph station. The post
road to Sevastopol lay in the valley between Kourgané Hill and
The 93rd Highlanders advancing to attack the Russians
From Bourliouk to the coast, opposite the French line of advance,
the south bank of the Alma became a cliff face. An accessible road
crossed the river from Almatamak, ascending the cliff. Near the
river mouth a steep path climbed the cliff face. The Russian
presence on the high ground above this cliff was slight.
Menshikov’s leadership was uninspired and lacking in vigour. The
Russians took little trouble to fortify their positions. The heavy
guns on Kourgané Hill were fronted by a low parapet intended to stop
the guns from rolling down the hill rather than for protection. No
works had been built to keep the French off the coastal high ground
or to protect the Russian troops from naval bombardment.
The Heights of Alma: the day after the battle
The Allied plan, agreed between Raglan and St Arnaud that morning
was for the French to begin the attack under cover of the fleet’s
Bosquet’s Division stormed up the coastal path and the Almatamak
road. Canrobert crossed the Alma to the west of Almatamak and
climbed Telegraph Hill, sending his guns up the Almatamak road. The
Russian piquets set fire to Bourliouk and withdrew across the river
and up the hill.
General St Arnaud sent word to Lord Raglan requesting that the
British now launch their assault on the main Russian positions and
Raglan issued the orders to his divisional commanders to attack.
There now occurred an incident of extraordinary eccentricity.
Leaving his generals to make the assault Lord Raglan led his staff
across the river and rode up onto a promontory below Telegraph Hill.
Raglan watched the British attack from a position behind the Russian
The British infantry advanced towards the river in a line
stretching from Bourliouk nearly to Tarkhanlar; the Second Division
on the right and the Light Division on the left. The Third Division
supported the Second and the First Division the Light. The Fourth
Division remained behind the left wing. The Light Brigade of cavalry
guarded the inland flank.
The battery of heavy Russian guns on Kourgané Hill opened fire on
the advancing British infantry with considerable effect both
physical and psychological.
The 42nd Highlanders storming the Alma Heights, led by Sir Colin
The burning village of Bourliouk caused considerable difficulty,
the brigades of the 2nd Division being forced to bypass the village
on either side to reach the river. The brigade of General Adams
reached the river to the East of Bourliouk and found itself at the
base of Telegraph Hill. General Pennefather’s brigade passed to the
West of the village. His third regiment, the 95th, joined
Codrington’s Fusilier Brigade and took part in the assault with that
formation, leaving Pennefather with the 30th and 55th Regiments.
Codrington’s regiments became the apex of the advance up to the
Russian Battery. Two regiments of the Division’s second brigade were
held back to protect the army’s inner flank. The remaining regiment
of that brigade, the 19th, also joined Codrington’s attack so that
he led forward five regiments rather than the three of his brigade
(7th, 19th, 23rd, 33rd and 95th).
The British infantry advanced to the river and began to cross,
finding the water to be fordable at almost every point (it is not
clear whether this fact had been discovered before the battle). The
far side of the river comprised a steep six foot bank which caused a
halt in the advance, partly because of its physical obstacle, partly
because it provided cover from the bombardment. The divisional
commander of the Light Division, Sir George Brown rode up the bank
and urged his soldiers to follow. The division surged out of the
river and scaled the hill beyond.
The brief action on the Bulganek on 19th September 1854;
British light cavalry in the foreground
The ground on the hillside was terraced and walled making it
difficult for the regiments to reform after the river crossing and
the British troops attacked up the hill in some disorder. The
regiments reached the Russian Battery to find that the guns had been
hastily limbered up and were being removed to the rear. It is the
view of General Hamley, who served as an artillery officer in the
Crimea, that the precipitous retreat of these guns saved the British
regiments from suffering appalling losses in the final stages of the
Even so Codrington’s brigade was in a precarious position. There
was little order and casualties were mounting particularly among the
officers. Large masses of Russian infantry were bearing down on the
battery. Many of the British soldiers retreated back down the hill
towards the river.
HRH The Duke of Cambridge, commanding the 1st Division
Raglan’s position on the lower slopes of Telegraph Hill prevented
him from exercising proper control over the assault by his army. If
matters had gone according to plan the First Division should have
been on hand to support Codrington’s troops. It was not. The Duke of
Cambridge was slow in ordering his brigades of Guards and
Highlanders to cross the Alma. Fortunately the Quartermaster
General, Lieutenant General Airey had not accompanied his commander
and was on hand to urge Cambridge forward. Even so the First
Division was too far back to support the Light Division at the
moment of crisis.
HRH The Duke of Cambridge watches as the British Foot Guards
advance to cross the river at the Battle of the Alman
The First Division moved forward to the River Alma with General
Bentinck’s Guards Brigade on the right and Sir Colin Campbell’s
Highland Brigade on the left. The two brigades were formed in
accordance with precedent with the senior regiments on the right
within each brigade, the next senior regiment on the left and the
junior regiment in the centre: from right to left the Grenadier
Guards, the Scots Fusilier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, 42nd
Highlanders, 91st Highlanders and the 79th Highlanders. The length
of the line, substantially longer than that of the Light Division,
extended beyond the Russian inland flank. Differences in the depth
of the river and the height and steepness of the bank affected the
speed with which these regiments were able to cross the river and
begin the ascent of the hill.
The adjutant of the Grenadiers, Captain Higginson, described in
his memoirs how his commander, Colonel Hood, noted the confused
advance of the Fusilier Brigade as it attacked the Russian Battery
and determined to keep his battalion under strict control. The
Grenadiers formed in line before leaving the river and advanced up
the hill firing two volleys at the Russian infantry on the hillside
causing them to retreat.
At the top of the hill the 7th Royal Fusiliers, under the
leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Lacey Yea, on the right flank of
Codrington’s brigade, had not retreated. Much of the rest of the
brigade was falling back and the Scots Fusilier Guards in the centre
of Bentinck’s brigade was largely swept back down the hill to the
river by the flood of men.
The other two Guards battalions, the Grenadiers and the
Coldstream, continued on up the hill and retook the Russian Battery.
The 42nd Highlanders outstripping the other regiments of the
Highland Brigade outflanked the Battery on the left; the other two
Highland regiments coming up on the far flank.
The British Foot Guards crossing the Alma River before
storming the Heights in support of the Light Division
During the attack on the Russian Battery on Kourgané Hill the
remaining regiments of the 2nd Division, the 55th, 30th and 47th,
attacked up Telegraph Hill, supported by the 41st and 49th.
British gun batteries crossed the bridge beyond Bourliouk and
bombarded the Russian regiments on Telegraph Hill. A Royal Horse
Artillery battery climbed up onto the hill and fired into the
Russian infantry from the right of the Guards Brigade. Other British
guns came up on the flanks of the regiments of the Second Division
and fired into the retreating Russian regiments. In one instance a
battery outstripped its gunners, following on foot, and the guns
were brought into action by the officers.
The Third Division crossed the Alma in support of the Highland
Brigade and the Light Brigade of cavalry moved forward on the inland
Grenadier corporal of the 1st Foot
Cleared from the Battery and under threat from the attacks on
Kourgané and Telegraph Hills, now fully supported by artillery fire,
the Russian infantry fell back and left the battlefield, marching
away towards Sevastopol.
The only allied cavalry on the field, Cardigan’s Light Brigade,
under the direct command of the Cavalry Division commander, Lord
Lucan, pressed for permission to pursue the retreating Russians, but
were specifically ordered by Lord Raglan to remain with the army.
The allied armies camped beyond the battle field while Menshikov
led his army back along the post road to Sevastopol.
The French force took little part in the battle. Bosquet’s
division had contact with the Russians. Canrobert’s division in the
centre made little use of its position to influence the attack on
The Russians casualties were 5,709. The official French return
claimed casualties of 1,340. The British belief is that this return
was incorrect. Lord Raglan set French casualties at 560. 3 French
officers were killed.
British casualties were set at 2,002.
British regimental casualties were:
Royal Artillery: 3 officers and 30 men.
Grenadier Guards: 3 officers and 127 men
Coldstream Guards: 2 offices and 27 men
Scots Fusilier Guards: 11 officers and 149 men
4th King’s Own Royal Regiment: 2 officers and 11 men
19th Regiment: 8 officers and 119 men
20th Regiment: 1 man
23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers: 13 officers and 197 men
30th Regiment: 5 officers and 74 men
33rd Regiment: 7 officers and 232 men
41st Regiment: 27 men
42nd Highlanders: 39 men
44th Regiment: 8 men
47th Regiment: 4 officers and 65 men
49th Regiment: 15 men
55th Regiment: 8 officers and 107 men
77th Regiment: 20 men
79th Highlanders: 9 men
88th Regiment: 1 officer and 21 men
93rd Highlanders: 1 officer and 51 men
95th Regiment: 17 officers and 176 men
Rifle Brigade: 1 officer and 50 men
Russian Cavalry of the Guard
Raglan urged his French colleague St Arnaud that the allies
should follow the Russians into Sevastopol. St Arnaud refused to do
so. It seems to be the authoritative view, particularly of the
Russians, that if the allies had launched a prompt attack they would
have had little difficulty in taking the city. The delay enabled the
Russians to recover from the defeat and put the city defences in
proper order. This in turn condemned the allies to the winters of
1854/5 and 1855/6 in the siege lines around Sevastopol and to two
On the other hand General Hamley, who served in the Crimea,
states in his book that when the army did follow the Russians they
found few signs of a disorderly retreat.
The battle revealed a number of stark failings in the British Army.
There was no standard battle drill, each regiment’s conduct
depending on the whim of the commanding officer. Some regiments felt
it necessary to form line and advance methodically, while others
rushed up to the Great Battery as quickly as they could and in no
There seems to have been little control at brigade or divisional
level. There was no co-ordination between infantry and artillery,
the guns being left to come on as and where they could.
Due to his curious expedition behind the Russian lines the
commander in chief Lord Raglan largely lost control of his army.
Hamley makes the comment: “It was fortunate in the circumstances,
that the divisional commanders had so plain a task before them.” It
is apparent that however plain their tasks may have been, it was
necessary for some control to be exercised. It fell to General Airey
to take command of the assault, in particular propelling the First
Division into supporting the faltering Light Division attack.
Regimental anecdotes and traditions:
All the Crimean battles are potent symbols for the British Army.
- Victorian accounts of the retreat of the Fusilier Brigade
from the Russian Battery describe a bugle call to retire as
being the cause. General Hamley, in his account of the battle,
makes no mention of this bugle call. It may well be that the
causes of the retreat were the disorder of the regiments, the
heavy officer casualties, the imminence of an overwhelming
Russian attack and the lack of support from the First Division.
- The Royal Welch Fusiliers' Queen's Colour was carried into
battle by Ensign Henry Anstruther. Anstruther was shot dead as
the regiment stormed the Russian Battery. The Queen's Colour was
taken up by Sergeant Luke O'Connor and carried through the rest
of the battle. O'Connor was subsequently commissioned and rose
to the rank of Major General. O'Connor is said to be the only
soldier to have served in every rank of the army to that level.
- Because of the nature of the attack on the Russian Battery
and the importance of maintaining momentum, the use of the
regimental colours has achieved prominence in the history and
traditions of the battle. Important pictures show the Colours of
the Scots Fusilier Guards being carried into battle, Sergeant
Luke Connor with the Queen’s Colour of the Royal Welch Fusiliers
and the Colour Party of the Coldstream Guards. Higginson states
that the Colours of the Grenadiers were not uncased until just
before the assault on the Russian Battery. He says the Colours
of the Scots Fusilier Guards were shot through while the
Grenadier Colours were largely unscathed.
- The battle gave rise to controversy over the conduct of the
Scots Fusilier Guards. It seems likely that the regiment was
pushed back down the hill by the retreat of the Fusilier
Brigade. It is reported that the Grenadiers and the Coldstream
called out “What’s happened to the Queen’s favourites now?” a
reference to the regiment’s standing with Queen Victoria. There
are additional criticisms that the regiment failed to re-form
after crossing the river or to fix bayonets before advancing up
the hill. The Scots Fusilier Guards seem to have begun the
attack up the hill before the Grenadiers and the Coldstream on
each flank could clear the river and form up to the satisfaction
of their commanding officers.
- Some of the poor decisions by British generals in the battle
were attributed to their short sight. Higginson describes
reaching the Battery and finding Sir George Brown sitting on his
horse amid a hail of fire. Brown told him to press on. Higginson
pointed out to the general that there was a large Russian column
moving towards them. Higginson says “Sir George, being short of
sight, had not seen this approaching column.” It is suggested in
the authorities that a brigade commander on the left flank of
the army was hampered in making decisions by poor eye sight.
See the main Crimean War site on britishbattles.com