Notes of an Engineer on the Reasons for the Fall of the Malakhov Kurgan.


 By A. Orda.


 (From Voennyi Sbornik, Vol. 2, 1858, pages 381-402.)


Who of us has not happened to hear judgments on the Malakhov Kurgan[*], or even himself taken part in various debates on the subject and its significance in our Sevastopol war, all phases of which are still fresh in our memory but at the same time so obscured for us when we want to examine the whole course of how it unfolded step by step. We still have not collected a sufficient amount of information for a true judgment of even the main facts regarding the siege of Sevastopol. Although the literature on the subject is already rich with innumerable official reports and several reliable accounts, among them there intrude verdicts which history does not recognize as accurate.


As an engineer and eyewitness, I could not remain unperturbed when in lively debates the main reason for the loss of the Malakhov Kurgan is identified as the existence of the gorge [gorzha][†] or rear defense work of this fortification. But now, when this opinion is accepted by most people and even expressed in print, as for example in Berg’s work on the siege of Sevastopol where it is expressly stated that “we could not retake the Malakhov Kurgan because of the constricting gorge,”[‡] I consider it appropriate to likewise in print justify the construction of the gorge for the Malakhov and point out other facts which I am firmly convinced were true reasons for the loss of this most important point of our whole position.


First of all I will turn the reader’s attention to those circumstances which prompted the construction of a gorge at the Malakhov Kurgan, and try to settle the question of whether it was necessary there.


Given that long expanse which Sevastopol’s defensive line occupied, the haste in which it was built, and in general the circumstances under which it was erected, this line could not be equally strong along its entire length. For this reason, there was no choice except to build several separate points along the line that were stronger than the rest so that it was upon the possession of these points that the fate of the other, weaker positions depended. If this had not been the case, our long line of defensive works, presenting the same strength throughout, would have been everywhere weaker in the forces manning it than those the enemy could concentrate against it. That is to say, it would have had the disadvantages common to all long, densely fortified lines, namely:


        1) Along its whole length it would be equally liable to be attacked, or in other words, the point of attack could not be determined ahead of time, which would greatly handicap the business of defense.


        2) For an effective defense it would have demanded a far greater number of troops than what comprised the Sevastopol garrison.


        3) Since the point of attack would be unknown, the garrison would have to be much more vigilant, and consequently the troops would be more worn down than was the case with the line of defensive works that Sevastopol actually had.


        4) Having chosen a point of attack and sent their main forces against it while other parts of the defensive line were occupied with feints or simple demonstrations, the besiegers could confidently count on success: given the extended length of our line, at every point we would be—at least in numbers—weaker than the concentrated forces of the enemy.


        5) Having penetrated at one point, the foe could cut our line into two parts which might not be able to communicate with each other and liable to be defeated separately. In a word, the loss of one section of our defense line would unavoidably lead to the loss of the whole.


        6) Finally, since the possible points of attack would be unknown, we would not know at what places to assemble our reserves during an assault.


Certainly, these considerations forced General Totleben to establish several strong-points for the line in which he could concentrate the defense of the city. In other words, he arranged it so that the fate of the city depended only upon several points that furthermore were determined beforehand.


Of course, terrain was the greatest influence on the selection of such strong-points. The ground presented several heights that dominated surrounding elevated areas. These elevated areas, as well as the greater part of the town and bay, were commanded by the Malakhov Kurgan. Thus, control of the low parts of the terrain, cut by deep ravines, depended on neighboring elevations and these in turn depended for the most part on the Malakhov.


It was necessary to strengthen the elevated places in their own way, especially the Malakhov Kurgan, and provide them with their own independent defense. Consequently, they were occupied by bastions in which were concentrated the defense of our whole line. In this way, the line between the 2nd and 1st Bastions received its protection from these same bastions. The line between the 2nd Bastion and the Malakhov Kurgan was strong due to these two bastions. The Gervais Battery between the Dockyard Ravine and Malakhov depended on it completely, but also in part on the 3rd Bastion which on the other flank defended the section of our line up to the 4th Bastion, and so on.


The Malakhov Kurgan took the 2nd Bastion in the flank and the 1st Bastion in its flank and partly in the rear, and its guns completely swept the space between these two bastions. It also commanded the 3rd Bastion’s left flank and its whole interior and could fire into the Gervais Battery. In a word, on it hung the fate of our defensive line’s whole left wing. In addition, once the enemy occupied the Malakhov he would be able to act against the rear of the 5th and 6th Bastions and their defensive barracks [oboronitel’nyya kazarmy, i.e. bunkers – M.C.], and fire upon the whole city, the Karabelnaya Suburb, the roads with our ships, the bridge across the roads, and consequently upon our communications with the North Side (or in other words, our communications with the Russian interior), and finally, upon part of the North Side.


Clearly, the kurgan had to be fortified more strongly than other points, and it followed that special attention had to be paid to its flank defenses as well. This was because the length of its frontal face was so small compared with its long sides. Its frontal effect was reinforced by the Gervais and Rogatka batteries located on either side.


In this way, by occupying the heights around Sevastopol with bastions, Totleben achieved the following goals:


        1) He turned a drawn-out line into one that although long, was anchored upon solid points. By thus concentrating his defense and designating points beforehand, he determined where the defense’s main efforts had to go and to what places reserves would have to be directed in case of an assault.


        2) He achieved the extremely important goal that the loss of one point would lead to the fall of a only a limited section of the line of defense, and if the enemy entered the city, he would be met with reserves and fire from barricades and steamships, and forced to retreat from the defensive sector that he had taken. The enemy would likewise be unable to maintain himself in an attack on our left flank, being under the fire of the Malakhov Kurgan. It followed that as long as the Malakhov Kurgan was in our hands, any enemy that broke through in one place would not be able to maintain himself either in the city or in any occupied fortifications of our left flank.


        3) By converting defense of the whole position into a defense of only a few points, he decreased the number of troops required to secure it, and alleviated the exhausting and constant state of alert which the garrison would otherwise have had to maintain.


        But in wanting to make the line of defense dependent on only a few points, it was necessary, as noted above, to provide for their independent defense, which had to be all the more effective since our bastions, especially those on the left wing, were located far from the town which was where the reserves were normally located. One of the main conditions for independent defense of a fortification is securing it from attack from the rear, and this is achieved exclusively by a gorge located in the fortification itself.


Based on this, there were gorges as a part of almost all the bastions. To reject the usefulness of gorge components in the Malakhov Kurgan could only be done by a person who does not recognize or does not understand the importance of this position for us. We can say with confidence that if there had been no gorge in the Malakhov, then Sevastopol would have been taken not on 27 August, but on 6 June during the first assault. If the French had remained in the Gervais Battery that they had taken (which could have been easily done if their troops which had penetrated to the battery had been supported in time by reserves and if there had been more order among the attacking forces), then the Malakhov would have been seized from the rear and Sevastopol would have subsequently fallen.


Some persons maintain that the gorge should have been torn down after the first assault. I do not know the basis for that opinion, but any rationale to support it may be rebutted by the fact that the main strength of the French in the first assault was directed against the Rogatka and Gervais batteries. They hardly attacked the Malakhov’s front face and apparently wanted to take this fortification from the rear.


At the end of the siege, when the front face was destroyed but from which canister could still be fired, and when counter-mine galleries had been put out in front (begun only a short time before the last assault but being far enough from the counterscarp of the front face’s ditch that they could be successfully used for blowing up the assaulting columns), and finally, when a retrenchment was built behind the front face and consequently taking the Malakhov from the front would be more difficult than in the first assault—would it really follow then that the Malakhov’s gorge should have been eliminated? Let us also not forget that at this same time the Gervais Battery—with only a small ditch along only half its length—and the Rogatka were both more heavily damaged than in the first assault so that these two long, extended, and weak lines were consequently even easier to seize than on 6 June. Finally, let us also note that at the time the second defense line was only just being built and was not yet finished even by 27 August. Yes, and was not the gorge even more needed when a French 15-gun battery located between the Kamchatka Lunette and the Malakhov Kurgan was firing on it and in particular directed fire on the Nikiforov Battery—which is to say on the Rogatka; when the heads of a double sap were also directed right against this battery; when that same 15-gun battery continued to operate against the gorge and along the whole left face; when a French battery continuously fired along the whole length of the Selenginsk Redoubt’s gorge and its egress; when the firing of small mortars set up by the French in the trench between the 2nd Bastion and Malakhov Kurgan, as well as the fire of the Kamchatka Lunette’s mortars, were primarily directed on the Nikiforov Battery and its gorge; when, consequently, everything clearly showed the enemy’s desire to first use the effect of their shells to destroy the Rogatka and its gorge and then attack the former from the front and break into the Malakhov from the rear—then did it really follow that we should have eliminated the Malakhov’s gorge? This would have worked to the advantage of the French, and instead of slowing their advance and being a new obstacle for them, it would have facilitated the execution of their designs by having—instead of a narrow entrance into the Malakhov—a wide gateway through which they could pour large numbers of troops.


The Malakhov Kurgan was such an important strongpoint in Sevastopol’s defenses that the garrison charged with its defense was consequently imbued with the utter importance of its assigned duty so that it would sooner face death than fall back a single step, and all the more so since reinforcements would not be slow in coming to its support. I already said above that no matter where the French penetrated, be it the Gervais, the Rogatka, or the 2nd Bastion, that success would be short-lived for the enemy as long as the Malakhov was in our hands. Unfortunately, however, not all the troops to whom a part of the defense of the such an important point was entrusted understood this. One should not debate the existence of the gorge, but rather the fact that in it a wide exit had been built so that many troops could retreat at once, and that opposite this exit the ditch was filled in. If on the contrary there had been laid down a simple wooden bridge, and if it had been ordered during the first assault to remove it and thus cut off all retreat for the troops defending the Malakhov Kurgan, than these 900 men,[§] not able to see any way to retreat, would have had to turn their thoughts to defense and the cornered situation would have underpinned their strength and compelled them to resist the first French attempt until the arrival of reserves.


Berg says that the gorge did not allow us to retake the Malakhov Kurgan. He no doubt forgets that some of our troops—a small number, truthfully—maintained themselves in front of the gorge until 6 o’clock on the evening of 27 August so that not only the gorge but even the space from the gorge to the first traverses was in our hands until that time, and consequently our troops that came up to retake the Malakhov were in no way advancing under fire. Critics of the gorge may say that the traverses and dugouts that crisscrossed the Malakhov’s interior are also kinds of “gorges” in that they did not permit our troops to deploy in large numbers. But if these constructions did not allow our small force to deploy, it means that they were even more of a hindrance to the deployment of the French forces which were much more numerous than ours. However, things were actually completely the opposite. With the extent to which plunging fire [navesnyi ogon’] had been developed by the allies, traverses and dugouts were extremely important. They were not constructed as a result of some theoretical opinion of the engineers, but often in response to requests and demands from the troops themselves. The whole garrison recognized their necessity. Without traverses and dugouts, Sevastopol would not have held out for 11 months, but rather 11 days, and if the defense had been able to last longer, then our losses would have been incomparably greater. On the contrary, one must regret that these protective positions could not be set up in greater numbers. There were passageways between the traverses and our troops from the third and fourth clearings could attack through three of these in three columns of six files, since each of the these openings was at least three sazhens [21 feet] wide. In doing this, one column would be sent through the passageway at the right-hand face, another through the passageway at the left face, and a third through the center one. The 3rd and 2nd Bastions had traverses as well as dugouts and underground magazines yet were retaken by our forces—so why should it be only in the Malakhov Kurgan that these constructions prevented a successful outcome of the affair for us? Let us also add that they were never used for defense with muskets, since the French, in order to uncover our troops, had to crawl into towers that skirted the traverses and had to stretch out their muskets to fire, which is to say they fired in the air. But the majority of them were firing from behind the traverses, over them at random. Of course, here there could be no accuracy in firing, but since there were many French and consequently there was a large number of these shots, and our troops were standing down below in a crowd away from the traverse that protected the egress from the gorge, one must suppose that these chance shots caused us great harm. From all that has been said, it appears one may conclude that the gorge to the Malakhov Kurgan had no detrimental effect at all, that it was necessary, and that it was not at all the reason for the loss of this bastion.


Before investigating the true reasons for the fall of the Malakhov, it appears to me to not be out of place to reply beforehand to one objection. Critics of the gorge might suggest that the Malakhov could have been secured from attack from the rear without the gorge. Here is my response. A fortification is secured from attack from the rear in two ways: either 1) the main fortification has another, weaker, fortification behind it, intended for firing upon the interior of the main works lying before it and in addition for destroying enemy columns in case they have bypassed the side faces of the main fortification and desire to penetrate from behind; the main purpose of such batteries is to not allow an attacker to establish himself inside works he has occupied; or 2) the side faces of a fortification are closed with a gorge.


The first method could not be used everywhere in Sevastopol. For the most part, our bastions occupied elevated points which could not be effectively fired upon by batteries lying to the rear. This was all the more so since the bastions’ interiors were crisscrossed with many traverses and dugouts. This method was, however, used to provide security from rear attacks at the 5th Bastion and, in part, the Schwartz Redoubt by means of the Chesme Redoubt located behind them. This was also the case for the 6th Bastion, Butakov Battery, and Belkin Lunette by means of the Rostislav Redoubt in the second defense line. However, the Chesme and Rostislav redoubts did not fully secure these points from flanking attacks. Therefore gorge components were built in the 5th and 6th Bastions as well as the Schwartz Redoubt. On 27 August the Schwartz Redoubt changed hands several times to be finally retaken by us in spite of it having a gorge. The remaining bastions, by reason of the elevated terrain they occupied, could not be secured from attack from the rear by such methods, and this is why the 4th, 3rd, Kornilov, and 2nd Bastions had gorges which in the case of the 3rd and 2nd Bastions nevertheless did not interfere with our troops’ recapturing them from the enemy. As is well known, from the Korabelnaya suburb the Malakhov Kurgan appears as a great elevation with rather steep slopes. Therefore, except for the emplacement of a gorge there was no other way it could be secured from an attack coming around its flanks. No matter where a battery might be placed behind it, that battery would not be able to effectively operate on its interior or on enemy columns that may be coming around it. Under these circumstances could one really attempt to rely on the batteries on the North Side, whose firing could barely reach the Malakhov Kurgan? Our steamships would have been able to act much more successfully, but enemy columns would certainly have been able to outflank the Malakhov and take it from the rear before the ships would have been able to come up and open fire. Thus the gorge in the Malakhov Kurgan was more necessary than anywhere else.


So what was the real reason for the fall of the Malakhov if the gorge was not to blame? We will try to decide this question in so far as possible.


When the English positions facing our left flank were occupied by the French, they continued the English second parallel and in February opened approaches opposite the Malakhov. These works could not escape the notice of General Totleben. Right away he understood the allies’ whole plan, which was to continue the previous attack on our left flank and send their main forces to take the Malakhov. Therefore, in order to increase the allies’ difficulties and slow the progress of their siege works, to win the time needed for the appropriate strengthening of the kurgan, and, finally, to move defensive works forward step by step and thus make it possible to successfully undertake decisive offensive operations, he proposed to occupy in the beginning of March the elevation located in front of the Malakhov, on the left bank of the Kilen Ravine, some 250-280 sazhens [580-650 yards] from the curve of the Malakhov’s front face, and here erect fortifications which were called the Kamchatka Lunette.


By this means the fortress artillery was pushed out further and it became possible to fire upon the enemy trench works at closer range. Additionally, the location of the Kamchatka Lunette offered the following advantages for the Malakhov Kurgan:


        1) In order to be able to move his approaches forward opposite the Malakhov and other fortifications on the left wing of our defense line, the enemy had to first capture the Kamchatka Lunette. Therefore he turned the fire of all his batteries against this fortification and subjected the Malakhov to only weak bombardments. In this way we could work on fortifying this bastion to great effect and preserve its artillery until such time as it could be of the greatest use—when the enemy works approached nearer, to be exact.


        2) If the enemy had simply occupied the hill on which the Kamchatka Lunette was built, then he would have been able to bombard the Malakhov works at very close range, primarily with shots fired along its left face. He would also have been able to fire at closer range on the roads and our ships which at that time were standing there.


        3) The Kamchatka Lunette offered the same usefulness as the Selenginsk and Volhynia redoubts and in general all counter-approach works. That is to say the particular utility offered by counter-approaches in the defense of fortresses in hindering the progress of siege works and affecting the morale of the troops, and which I consider superfluous to explain since it is more or less known to all.


It is true that the Kamchatka Lunette was exposed to the fire of all the enemy batteries set up against our left flank, and it could justly carry the sobriquet of a slaughterhouse and stamp mill, but at the same time all was quiet in the Malakhov so long as the Kamchatka was in our hands. If we had not had this lunette, we would not have been able to build the dugouts and traverses in the Malakhov Kurgan that were so indispensable for us, or widen the ditch, or make the breastwork higher and thicker, or put more guns in place. Rarely then would some shell or random cannonball fly into the Malakhov; rifle bullets did not reach it at all.


With the capture of the Kamchatka Lunette, or more accurately—its voluntary abandonment on our part—everything changed. The enemy works which until that time had been about 400 sazhens (700 yards) from the Malakhov and which thanks to the Kamchatka Lunette had not been able to move forward at all for 2 1/2 months, suddenly in a single day approached to within 250 sazhens (580 yards). The enemy batteries all turned their attention to the kurgan with the intention that the ferocity of their bombardment would win back the time they had lost. The enemy set to building new batteries in the same Kamchatka Lunette that had been of such benefit to the Malakhov Kurgan, and now their frontal and enfilade fire tore down its front and left faces. It became much harder to work in the kurgan, all the more so since the enemy was able to add heavy rifle fire to his artillery bombardment. In a word, from being the safest point in the whole line the Malakhov had become one of the most dangerous. I will not even mention the blow to the morale of the Sevastopol garrison caused by the loss of the Kamchatka Lunette and all our last counter-approach works. It can easily be imagined. All this was a result of: 1) the small number of our troops in the lunette and the absence of reserves in the Malakhov at the moment the lunette was stormed, and 2) as the main reason, the absence of a gorge in the lunette, .


Critics of the gorge should remember that after enemy troops ran up to about 30 or 35 yards from the Kamchatka Lunette’s front face, they suddenly turned to the right, bypassed the lunette’s left face, and broke into it from the rear. The lunette’s small garrison (a battalion of the Poltava Regiment numbering about 200 men) abandoned everything on the cry of “They have outflanked us!” [“Nas oboshli!”] and quickly withdrew. If there had been a gorge in the Kamchatka Lunette the position would have been saved since in an enclosed fortification these 200 men would have been enough to oppose the French until the arrival of General Khrulev with the Trans-Balkan Regiment, all the more so because they were reinforced by riflemen from the 1st Brigade of the 16th Infantry Division who at that time were in the forward trenches (under the command of Lieutenant Grotengel’, if I am not mistaken) and could have immediately joined the lunette’s garrison if they had not been carried away by the general retreat. Unfortunately, this gorge had begun to be filled in not long before the assault on the lunette and by 26 May it was very small in size.


Thus, the taking of the Kamchatka Lunette resulted in significant harm to the Malakhov Kurgan and must be counted as the first reason for its fall. During June and half of July the artillery in the Malakhov operated with great success. The least new work by the enemy was made so much more difficult by heavy artillery fire from this bastion. Our guns fired on the enemy batteries primarily with volleys [zalpy] or rapid fire [beglyi ogon’]. Battery commanders made it a rule for themselves to answer every enemy shot with several of our own, and never be the first to fall silent. With our artillery’s strong firing, it was not uncommon for embrasures in the enemy batteries to cave in, and sometimes batteries themselves were destroyed. By day both sides mostly employed aimed fire. At night we and the enemy both would need to repair batteries and so would operate only with plunging fire. Usually enemy firing at night was so weak that we could successfully work on our defenses, and all the more so since laborers and material were sent to the bastion in the quantities demanded by sector officers.


Towards the end of July the Malakhov’s artillery grew weaker, but nevertheless not to the extent that the enemy had any perceptible advantage in firing or that our repair work consequently became significantly more difficult than before. In one place at the foot of the Kamchatka Lunette the French were making the embankment in front of their trenches wider and higher while their other works did not move forward. It was clear that they were building a battery at this place. This was pointed out to the artillerymen, and several new embrasures were even cut out in the left face and in the Rogatka, but the Malakhov’s artillery fired upon these works very little and was not giving them their due attention. At dawn on 4 August 10 new embrasures appeared at this spot, and soon afterwards 5 more. Thus a new battery 225 sazhens [525 yards] from the Malakhov Kurgan’s front face came into the possession of the French very cheaply. It was built in no more than 4 or 5 days and later caused terrible damage to the Malakhov.[**] If the defenders had used their artillery as they should have, the battery would have been built only with great effort and at great cost in personnel and time.


Since spring we had been waiting for the 2nd Army Corps, hoping that with its arrival new offensive operations could begin and we would abandon the purely passive role we had played on 26 May. Everyone was doing well, moved with purpose, was full of hope, and had plenty of energy. The 2nd Corps came, but then 4 August happened and everything changed.


At dawn on 5 August the enemy opened a heavy cannonade and bombardment. The French batteries in the Kamchatka Lunette and below it fired salvos of shell [zalpami, granatami]. The distant French battery at the Kilen Ravine fired shot [yadrami]. The English batteries operated exclusively with aimed explosive shells [bombami i granatami pritsel’no]. Only their three-gun battery at the 3rd Bastion, in which they had just cut six more embrasures, was firing shot. To this aimed fire was added very intense plunging fire for all the mortar batteries, French as well as English.


Our artillery, instead of acting as energetically as during the previous bombardment, gave no more than five shots[††] from each gun and then fell silent. The next day was exactly the same except that each of our guns fired four times. So it went to 9 August and beyond. Our artillery not only did not increase its firing, but on the contrary decreased it until it was completely inactive. At the end of August it was a rarity to hear a shot fired from the Malakhov. The enemy’s fire sometimes increased and sometimes decreased, but from 24 August his cannonade and bombardment reached extreme intensities heretofore unheard of.


In a few words the reasons for the Malakhov Kurgan’s artillery being inactive were:


        1) Insufficient rounds and powder.


        2) The idea that answering the enemy’s shots would attract his attention to oneself.


The first of these reasons was not at all the fault of the Malakhov’s artillery since there was a shortage of ammunition along the whole line of defense, especially of explosive types. All the bastions were issued the same insufficient quantities and if we accept the shortage of munitions as an excuse, it must be also accepted that the firing from all the bastions was similarly weak. However, the other bastions were not at all as silent as the Malakhov. For instance, the 3rd Bastion operated energetically right to the very end. From 5 to 7 August it was able to overturn all the enemy batteries close to it, and on 7 August the enemy operated against this bastion only from his distant batteries. On 8 August this bastion not only replied to shots fired against it, but also helped the 4th Bastion. By thus continuously answering the enemy’s shots, the 3rd Bastion kept him at a distance from itself and did not allow him to seize the upper hand in firing, and therefore the damage to the 3rd Bastion’s fortifications was significantly less than that of the Malakhov Kurgan even though equally intense firing was directed against these two points. The 2nd Bastion, weakly armed and facing a superior number of enemy guns, withstood a comparatively equally intense fire as the Malakhov Kurgan, and it did not cease firing for a single day and sometimes even managed to destroy enemy embrasures. For example, on 24 August it ceased its activity only when the nearby French 4-gun battery which had been inflicting serious damage on it had three embrasures destroyed and itself ceased firing. Almost all the bastions operated in such a fashion with the sole exception of the Malakhov.


Of the batteries directed against the Malakhov, the one that caused the most damage to it was the French Lower-Kamchatka Battery. It was continuously in action day and night. When other batteries that were using aimed fire stopped at night and the firing from mortar batteries increased, the Lower-Kamchatka Battery continued to operate, and exclusively with explosive munitions. They destroyed the frontal Nikiforov Battery at the Rogatka, the 3-gun Panfirov Battery located a step below the bastion’s left face, and the second defensive line running behind the Rogatka. They fired along the whole left face; rounds fell into the steep interior sides of the gorge and in its exit. Our artillery, by its desultory activity having allowed the French battery to be built, should have at least corrected its unpardonable error and applied all its efforts to the destruction of this battery, leaving others alone for the time being. We were able to direct 17 guns against the battery. With this number it was possible, though difficult, to overthrow it. These 17 guns were subjected to the firing of other French batteries, namely the 8-gun battery built in the Kamchatka Lunette’s gorge, and batteries emplaced at Kilen Ravine. Of course, the two sides were far from equal, but one must not forget that these last enemy batteries were fired upon from other parts of the kurgan. For example, from 1 gun on the redan, the 2-gun Gervais Battery, 5 guns on the left flank, and 7 guns of the Gennerich Battery. It can be positively maintained that the 15-gun battery could have been destroyed by the combined energetic action of all the batteries of the Malakhov Kurgan.


As for the idea that answering the enemy’s shots would mean attracting his fire to oneself, it is undoubtedly false. And if it may have been true in the last days of August, it would only be for the Malakhov Kurgan and that only because since the beginning of August this bastion’s artillery acted extremely weakly or not at all. Once the 15-gun battery had been permitted to be built and the attacker allowed to take a clear superiority not only in intensity of fire but also in the number of guns, it was hard to correct the situation, and it was no surprise that five shots answered every one of ours.


Meanwhile the damage to our works increased more and more every day and to repair this damage became more difficult, all the more so since at night the enemy placed about 20 field guns in one of his forward trenches and opened up with canister fire on our workers. To move his guns so close to the bastion was very daring on the part of the enemy, but it was all possible with the passive defense we conducted towards the end, and especially with the insignificant activity of the kurgan’s artillery as it was during this final period. In addition, our work on the fortifications was made exceptionally difficult by the shortage of laborers. The seriousness of this last situation may be judged by the following facts. In order to repair all the damage in the entire sector, on the night of 5/6 August at least 3000 laborers were required but only 2150 were sent. The damage was significant: 50 embrasures, several merlons, and 15 platforms were completely destroyed; almost all the traverses and embankments around the powder cellars and dugouts were damaged by shells, and in several places our ditch was largely filled in. On 7 August 30 embrasures and 17 platforms were destroyed; 4 merlons were torn away; 6 guns were overturned and all the traverses were in ruins. Additionally, embankments around powder cellars and dugouts were damaged and the ditch filled in. Yet that night only 1770 men were sent as laborers. On 19 August 24 embrasures and 5 platforms were damaged; all banquettes and the outer slope of the breastworks had to be repaired; the ditch had to be cleared out; collapsed traverses had to be propped up to at least some extent; embankments around dugouts and cellars had to be widened to at least 3 feet. But only 1450 workers were provided. In a few words, every day the damage was extensive and from 24 August onward the destruction was all encompassing, but the means to deal with it grew less. And in the meantime, not only was it necessary to repair damage, but also carry out new emergency work: fix the retrenchment, see to barbettes on the left face, excavate pits for new dugouts, and so on. It was therefor not always possible to do everything that was proposed. Thus, for example, until 9/10 August the shortage of workers made it impossible to repair either the interior collapse of breastworks or the interior damage to traverses and embankments around dugouts. For the same reason, on 22 August there was no work at all done on the second defensive line. There were so few workers that they were barely able to repair just the embrasures, platforms, merlons, and cellar embankments. And these repairs were so hasty that only ruins remained in a very short time under intense enemy fire. Again for example, on 12 August, although the embrasures of the Rogatka were repaired during the night with a large loss of men, in the course of a single hour at daybreak they were all destroyed once more. In the space of two hours on 24 August, all of the Malakhov Kurgan’s embrasures that could be fired upon by the Lower-Kamchatka Battery were destroyed, the front and left faces were damaged in many places, the ditch was filled in with two or three feet of earth, most of the traverses were destroyed, and there were large craters from exploded shells on almost all powder cellars and dugouts.


Of all the direct-fire batteries, the one that was most fatal to the Malakhov Kurgan was, as I have already noted, the French Lower-Kamchatka Battery. The accuracy of its fire was striking. At night rounds from it almost always came into those embrasures where work was being done so that it often happened that the same embrasure had to be repaired several times a night. When repairing many of the embrasures new workers had to be brought in to replace the previous crew that had been lost through two or three successful hits by shells. Losses during work efforts were huge. For example, during the repair of one destroyed embrasure of the Panfirov Battery on 24/25 August, 32 laborers and 4 sappers became casualties.


Of enemy mortar batteries, the one that caused us the most harm and fired most often was the 8-mortar battery built by the French on the Kamchatka Lunette at the junction of its front and left faces. At times it would suddenly discharge its mortars, at other times they would fire one after another so that workers could not settle into their task. Its rounds, probably better prepared than in other batteries, exploded either at the moment of impact or even about a yard above the ground. In addition to this, the riflemen the enemy placed in his forward trenches around the field guns kept up a continuous fire at night which, to be sure, did not cause us great physical harm but did work to demoralize the laborers. Under such conditions one could not demand that damages be well repaired.


From all of this one can guess the pitiful state that our fortifications must have been in and how the least repair to them involved unbelievable difficulties and effort. The main difficulty, of course, came from the incredibly intense enemy fire and how it increased as a result of our artillery’s silence, which of course is mostly to be blamed on the unfortunate condition of our fortification works. Thus it was our artillery’s weak performance from the end of July and its complete inactivity from the middle of August and the resulting consequences—the extreme difficulty and even impossibility of repairing damage to our works, must be counted as the second reason for the fall of the Malakhov.


On 27 August the forces occupying the Malakhov consisted of the Modlin, Praga, and Zamosc reserve regiments, a force totaling about 900 men. These regiments had entered the Malakhov around 1 August, each of three battalions. The Modlin and Zamosc regiments immediately had all their men placed in the bastion while the Praga Regiment had just one battalion sent in to take turns with the two others until such time as all these were put into the bastion at once. At first the battalions might be 500 or 600 men strong, but after more than 20 days under the enemy’s hellish fire these regiments shrank in size to a awful degree, so that around 20 August the Praga Regiment, due to extreme losses in personnel, had to be reformed into a single battalion no more than 400 or 500 bayonets strong. It is obvious that such a small number of troops, along with the pitiful state of our fortifications and the general exhaustion due to constant work and alarms, was completely inadequate for a proper defense of the Malakhov Kurgan. This was all the more so on 27 August when against them were sent ten times their number of fresh and inspired troops full of energy. The fight was exceedingly unequal. Nevertheless, this handful of men, inadequate for a proper defense of the bastion entrusted to them, was strong enough to meet enemy columns in the first moments of the assault and await the arrival of reserves which, being located nearby, would not delay in coming up under the leadership of the universally admired Khrulev. In the first moments of the assault much indecision was noticed among the enemy troops. They lay on the breastworks and for several minutes did not fire. At this point our forces should have struck a concerted blow and waited for the arrival of the reserves.[‡‡] But a combined blow needs unity and order, and those were hard to maintain among our troops under the infernal enemy firing that did not let up for even a minute. Still, fairness compels us to relate that the part of the Malakhov Kurgan’s garrison which occupied its front faces and retrenchments (the Modlin Regiment and part of the Praga) carried out their duty as they were supposed to, which is to say they were in constant readiness for the alarm and had a third of their men on the banquettes accompanied by their officers, while the remainder were located partly in the tower and partly in the dugouts, all the while wearing their cartridge pouches. There was no soldier who did not know his place and all leaders were always in front. Sadly, those units which occupied the fortification’s side faces were not similarly carrying out their duty. They put only sentries on the banquettes and the rest of the men were kept in dugouts, often without their accouterments. Company posts in case of an alarm were not designated and so when the assault began completely unexpectedly there was frightful confusion in the side-face sectors around the gorge. In the running to and fro one man could not find his musket, another his cartridge pouch, a third was looking for his company, and a fourth ran from one banquette to another because he did not know where his company was supposed to be. The result of this tumult was that everything was mixed up and the soldiers could not see their commanders and in particular their regiments’ flags which would have shown them their duty and place, and they retreated without a shot.


Clearly, under such conditions a coordinated blow could not be made upon the enemy at the suitable moment, and once the opportunity was let slip it could not be recovered since the French, whose numbers were constantly growing and who perceived our troops’ situation, became heartened and began to press forward.


This would not have happened if all three regiments defending the Malakhov Kurgan had been united and had steadfastly defended themselves until the reserves arrived. Thus, the suddenness of the attack and in particular the small size of the Malakhov’s garrison must be counted as the third reason for the fall of this point.


Finally, the fourth and last reason for the Malakhov’s fall must be considered the poor condition of its fortifications.


At the time of the assault (12 o’clock on 27 August), the condition of the 4th Defensive Sector’s fortified works, which is to say the Malakhov Kurgan, Gervais Battery, the Rogatka up to its exit, and their rear lines were as follows:


        1) All embrasures on the front face were caved in, but canister could be fired through them. The ditch was almost filled in at several places.


        2) All the embrasures of the Panfirov Battery were destroyed and the merlons torn down. The ditch to its front was almost nonexistent. Half of the breastworks consisted of sandbags hastily emplaced to cover collapses.


        3) The embrasures of the whole left face, except for a very few, were destroyed. The ditch was less filled in than at the front face.


        4) On the right face, especially at the 9-gun battery, the greater half of the embrasures were caved in, but canister could still be fired through them. The ditch, especially at the slope down to the Gervais Battery, was filled in halfway.


        5) In the Nikiforov Battery and Rogatka not a single embrasure was left whole; the ditch, which in any case was small, no longer existed; there were collapses in two places, each about 10 yards wide. They were hastily filled in with sandbags, but not completely.


        6) Only half the embrasures of the Gervais Battery were destroyed and its ditch was less filled in than that of the bastion.


        7) The retrenchment had banquettes and barbettes ready for three carronades, but there were none there. The embankments of the breastworks was not heavily damaged. Its ditch, although not yet finished, was nevertheless a sufficient impediment to crossing, especially when under fire from the retrenchment itself. Although the clearing in front of the retrenchment had not had all traverses and dugouts removed due to the continual lack of workers, it could nevertheless be fired upon from the retrenchment well enough since due to the latter’s superior command of its surroundings it covered a large part of the clearing and part of the front face that was not covered by the tower’s remaining lower tier.


        8) The second defensive line behind the Rogatka which was just being built at the time was—though not yet finished—suitable for defense with muskets. Banquettes had been built up, eleven embrasures cut out, the same number of platforms laid out, and three guns put into position. In addition, it had been armed with four field pieces. No ditch had been dug in front due to lack of time and labor. The breastwork was heavily damaged.


        9) The second defensive line behind the Gervais Battery, although damaged in many places, was suitable for muskets along its entire length. In addition, it had 14 field guns on barbettes. No ditch had been dug in front of it.


        10) The gorge of the Malakhov Kurgan was in no way in that excellent condition assumed by its critics and Mr. Berg on page 57 of volume II of his book. Its ditch was by no means 21 feet deep, and neither was the breastwork 18 feet high. The breastwork was at the very most 9 feet high and the ditch had a depth of no more than 10 feet. The breastwork’s interior wall was all destroyed, the banquette torn down, and the breastwork’s slope pitted by shells.


        11) All traverses were destroyed. The embankments around all the powder cellars and dugouts had deep craters, and overall the Malakhov’s interior was strewn with torn-up gabions, fascines, planks, overturned guns, and masses of debris which it had not been possible to clear away due to the lack of workers to repair even the most critical damage, which was work that constantly required extra efforts.


       Finally, 12) Of the 63 guns that equipped the Malakhov Kurgan, 43 were inoperable. Only 8 guns on the front faces could fire, and 14 on the bastion’s side faces.


If the comments presented here, which I have supported with facts whose accuracy has been historically substantiated, are subjected to a strict and impartial judgment, we inescapably come to the conclusion that the presence of a gorge in the Malakhov Kurgan was in no way a cause of the fall of this important point of our Sevastopol defenses. The Malakhov fell because of:


        1) The loss of the Kamchatka Lunette.


        2) The feeble activity of the Malakhov’s artillery since the end of July.


        3) The suddenness of the assault, and most importantly—the small number of troops defending the Malakhov.


        4) The poor state of its fortifications at the moment of the assault.




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Translated by Mark Conrad, 2000-2002

[*] Kurgan – Russian word meaning a fortified place or grave mound, from Old Turkic kurghan, fortified place. The Malakhov Kurgan took its name from a Russian officer who commanded labor detachments engaged in construction work at this site in the early 19th century.

[†] A gorge is the fortified entrance from the rear into a bastion – trans.

[‡] Volume II, page 34.

[§] Here I am not counting the men serving the guns, sappers, or the Sevsk Regiment and Druzhina No. 47 of the Kursk Opolchenie which were then on labor details in the Malakhov yet considered to be in reserve. [druzhina = battalion, opolchenie = mass levy, or militia – M.C.]

[**] On the evening of 4 August the French fired three shots from each gun of this battery. These were probably test firings.

[††] This quantity of five shots was apparently determined by the Sevastopol garrison’s chief of artillery, General Scheideman.

[‡‡] This moment was taken advantage of by the commander of Sector IV, Captain-Lieutenant Karpov. He gathered part of Druzhina No. 47 of the Kursk Opolchenie, sailors, and some men of the Modlin Regiment and directed them against the French. This handful of men fought heroically around the guns. The tumult was like nothing seen before. They fought with ramrods, picks, shovels, axes, handspikes, and anything that came to hand. Every gun was covered with the bodies of the men who served them, but what could a handful of men do against such an overwhelmingly superior enemy force? It can be reliably stated that all the gun crews on the front faces perished at their pieces. If the remaining infantry elements had taken advantage of this suitable moment for an attack and supported Karpov, then the outcome of the battle might have been different.