The Siege of Sevastopol, October 1854–September 1855

Black Sea Sevastopol Harbour from the Russian Survey of 1836Black Sea Sevastopol Harbour from the Russian Survey of 1836, British Admiralty, 1853. Repro ID: F0408, G236:6/30. ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonThe strong and heavily fortified Black Sea port of Sevastopol, on the south-west coast of the Crimea, was the main naval base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. During the Crimean War (1853–56), the capture or destruction of this stronghold became the main military object of the allied British, French and Turkish armies opposing Russia. Sevastopol endured an 11-month siege before finally capitulating to the enemy in September 1855.

The printed sea chart illustrated above was published by the British Admiralty in 1853, from information gathered from an earlier Russian survey of Sevastopol, constructed in 1836. The chart is a good example of the accurate navigational material produced by the Hydrographic Office during this period and available to the Royal Navy.

Rear Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons Bt., flying his flag in HMS Agamemnon, commanded the British Mediterranean fleet which supported allied land military operations in the Crimea and assisted in the blockade and bombardment of Sevastopol in 1854. The chart shows the ideal position of the port, with its deep anchorages for ships, dockyards and the location of the strong defences and batteries protecting the fortress city, in particular forts Konstantine, St. Nicholas and Alexander, guarding the entrance to the harbour. 

A Sketch Shewing Position of Investing Corps of Allied Armies Before SebastopolA sketch shewing [sic] position of investing corps of allied armies before Sebastopol by Captn Biddulph RA Octr. 1854, by Edward Stanford; Capt Biddulph, 1854. Repro ID: F4659, G236:6/9 ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonThe printed plan illustrated on the right shows the positions of the allied British, French and Turkish expeditionary armies surrounding and besieging Sevastopol in 1854, and also the situation of the Russian forces in the area. It was drawn in October 1854 by Captain Biddulph of the Royal Artillery and published in London the same year by Edward Stanford.

Below can be seen a detailed panoramic representation of the siege trenches, positions and military operations of the allied armies ‘investing’ (surrounding and besieging) Sevastopol. It features the city, harbour and defensive works of the besieged Russian fortress, the British base of command at Balaklava and other places of importance in that seat of the Crimean War.

A Panoramic View of the Entrenched Position of the Allied Armies of England & France Before SebastopolA panoramic view of the entrenched position of the allied armies of England & France before Sebastopol comprising the town and harbour of Balaklava & the railway to Kadikoi, also every place of importance or interest in the seat of war..., published by Stannard & Dixon; Thos. Packer, 1855. Repro ID: F4658, G236:6/10. ©National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, LondonThe view was produced and published in 1855 by Stannard and Dixon from governmental charts, plans, sketches and reports provided by a British soldier serving with the Sappers and Miners during the campaign, who was an eyewitness to the actions around the port and attempts to capture it.

Background to the siege

The main military operations of the Crimean War occurred around the Russian navy port of Sevastopol, which witnessed heavy fighting and a long siege before being abandoned to the allied forces of Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia.

Hostilities followed a Turkish rejection of Russian attempts to secure comparable rights with France in a dispute over the protection of Christian religious sites and subjects in Ottoman-held Palestine. Additional Russian claims to other Ottoman-controlled territories resulted in Russian invasion and occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia in the Balkans. Russia refused demands from other European powers for immediate withdrawal from the region, prompting Turkey to declare war (4 October 1853). Turkey was victorious on land at Oltenitza (4 November 1853), but suffered defeat at sea when a Russian naval squadron destroyed a Turkish flotilla at Sinope (30 November 1853).

The Russian invasion of Bulgaria (20 March 1854) led Britain and France to declare war (28 March 1854). The allies dispatched a fleet to the Black Sea and an Anglo-French expeditionary army was based at Varna, under the joint command of Raglan and Saint Arnaud. Shortly afterwards allied warships attacked Odessa (April 1854). With Turkish consent, Austria moved an army into Moldavia and Wallachia (20 April 1854), forcing Russia to withdraw its forces from the Balkans (2 August 1854). The latter however refused assurances to resist further attacks on the Ottoman Empire.

In retaliation, Britain and France decided to besiege and capture Sevastopol, and the allied army was transported from Varna to the Crimea, supported by a fleet under Lyons. Landing on the Crimean Peninsula (13 September 1854), the allied forces advanced on Sevastopol, defeating the Russians at Alma (20 September 1854). The Russian commander, Menshikov, withdrew to Sevastopol, which was garrisoned and strengthened. Arriving at Sevastopol, allied bases were established at Balaklava (British) and Kamiesch (French), while the fleet blockaded the harbour entrance. Besiegement and bombardment of the port by land and sea began (8 October 1854). Two attempts by the Russians to relieve the siege were defeated at Balaklava (25 October 1854) and Inkerman (5 November 1854).

The harsh Crimean winter deeply affected the unprepared armies surrounding Sevastopol, and many troops fell victim to cholera and dysentery. In Britain, reports of the conditions endured by the forces outraged the public, already critical of the war, leading to the fall of the government and action to remedy the situation.

The new year saw increased allied efforts to capture Sevastopol. The Turks were victorious at Eupatoria (17 February 1855). Sardinia also entered the war (January 1855) and defeated the Russians at Chernaya (16 August 1855). The next month saw two allied attempts to capture the outer defences of Sevastopol, both after prolonged bombardments of the city. A first assault on the Malakoff and Redan forts was repulsed (17–18 June 1855), but the French finally succeeded in storming the Malakoff redoubt (8 September 1855). At its fall, the Russians decided to abandon further resistance, and after razing the fortifications they evacuated Sevastopol, allowing the allies to enter and occupy the fortress the next day (9 September 1855). Sevastopol’s loss compelled Russia to concede peace (1856).