Debacle in the Crimea
Britain and France entered the Crimean War in 1854 in order to prevent the mighty Russian Empire from crushing Turkey, and thus altering the balance of power in the East. The Anglo-French plan involved the capture of the Russian Black Sea port of Sebastopol. The war is famed for the epic degree of incompetence shown by the British military authorities, which was only surpassed by the tenacity of the ordinary British soldier. Poorly equipped, and in clothing unsuited for the climate, the 17th Regiment was in the thick of the fighting, in the Battle of the Quarries, the attack on the Great Redan, and the final assault on Sebastopol.
Corporal Philip Smith of the 17th Regiment wins the Victoria Cross for heroism at Sebastopol
Thomas Faughnan served with the 17th Regiment in the Crimea, and left a harrowing account of the assault on the Redan at Sebastopol on 17 June 1855: “The Russians, having the exact range, threw the shells right among our men … A shell struck Sergeant Connell of the Grenadier company, tearing him to shreds, and throwing one of his legs fifty yards off; which was found afterwards and known by the regimental number on his sock. That leg was all of him that could ever be seen afterwards.”
Right: Crimea medal with bar ‘Sebastopol’ awarded to ‘3496 G.Hayter 17th Regt’. Crimea medals to the 17th are almost invariably found officially impressed. Occasionally, as in this case, the service number has been depot impressed later
Left: Captain David La T. Colthurst served in the Crimea with the 17th Regiment. He was later MP for Cork.
Far Left: A pewter button, found recently on the site of the 17th Regiment’s camp at Sebastopol.
Left: A brass cap numeral, found at the same location
In the attack the 17th Regiment, upon emerging from the network of trenches in front of the Redan were met with a hurricane of fire. In the confined space they could achieve little by way of formation and their progress was impeded by the dead and wounded of previous attempts. One officer, Captain J.L.Croker, was killed along with thirteen other ranks. 32 other ranks were wounded. Great bravery was shown by a number of men who went back to bring in the body of Captain Croker, and by Corporal Philip Smith who several times brought in wounded men under fire. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.