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The greatest blunder by a British general of the 19th century

Lord Fitzroy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan (1788–1855) had enjoyed a career befitting a duke's son.

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The greatest blunder by a British general of the 19th century

Lord Fitzroy Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan (1788–1855) had enjoyed a career befitting a duke's son. Since he was not entitled to the Duke of Beaufort's family inheritance as a descendant, he was bought an officer's commission in the British Army. He was 15 then, and the wars against France offered ample opportunities to make a name for himself.

Somerset fought in Lord Wellington's army on the Iberian Peninsula, proved himself in numerous engagements and rose to become the personal secretary of the Commander-in-Chief. In 1814 he married a niece of Wellington, a year later he was knighted and promoted to colonel. In the fighting for Waterloo he was badly wounded and lost an arm. This did not prevent him from rising further in the diplomatic service and in Wellington's entourage, so that in 1852 he was admitted to the House of Lords as 1st Baron Raglan.

Because of his political experience, he received his first large troop command two years later. As Commander-in-Chief of all British troops "east of Malta" he was given supreme command of the Allied troops massed for the Crimean landings. The war broke out after Russian troops invaded the Ottoman principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia in the summer of 1853. To prevent them from advancing to the Bosphorus, England and France entered the war on Turkey's side. The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont joined.

In order to block the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which had earlier destroyed the Ottoman naval power at Sinope, the allies aimed at Crimea. But even the landing in September 1854 made it clear that Raglan had not fought a battle, let alone led a major force, for nearly four decades.

“Hardly anyone on the expedition will forget the night of September 14th. Rarely, if ever, have 27,000 Englishmen found themselves in a more miserable situation,” said the war correspondent for the London Times, William Howard Russell, describing the start of the company. Raglan and his staff, who were almost as old as their boss, had neglected to provide tents. Provisions had only been landed for three days.

"Imagine these old generals and young lords and gentlemen, hour after hour exposed to the relentless might of the storm, bedless, lying on sodden blankets or useless waterproof cloaks in stinking puddles, and the 20,000 or so poor devils who had not an inch of dry ground and were forced to sleep, or at least try, in pools or streams, with no fire to warm them, no hot toddy, and no prospect of breakfast,” Russell wrote.

It was true that Raglan had been warned in good time that he would find difficult climatic and logistical conditions in the Crimea. However, he dismissed the suggestion that this should be taken into account when choosing equipment. This included the idea of ​​allowing soldiers to grow beards: "I have rather old-fashioned ideas and cling to the wish that an Englishman should look like an Englishman, despite the fact that the French try to appear African , Turks and infidels... let's act like Englishmen."

However, clean water was in short supply. "We suffer terribly from water shortages," reported a military doctor. “We had nothing to drink but water from puddles from the previous night's rain; and even now the water is so dirty that when you pour it into a glass you cannot see the bottom.” It was not for nothing that the British lost more soldiers to disease and disease than to bullets and shells in the Crimean War.

"The knowledge of forty years of experience could not dissuade the military authorities from only letting the soldier go into the field when he was half strangled and unable to move under his load," complained a senior officer. It is therefore all the more astonishing that the Allies were able to begin the siege of the large sea fortress of Sevastopol on October 17th.

There the armies waged the horrors of modern trench warfare. A system of ramparts soon surrounded the city. Artillery came up and fired on the fortifications. But the calibers were too small to be able to breach them. The bombardment by the fleet had to be stopped because their wooden ships took more hits from the Russian shore batteries than they could take on land.

Raglan also waged a guerrilla war with the French leadership, whom he considered a more dangerous enemy than the Russians. At least the Allies managed to repel Russian attempts to break out or to relieve themselves. Raglan also made it clear that he knew little about tactics. Instead, he stuck to the great Wellington's motto of never surrendering a cannon to the enemy.

When Russian troops attacked the Allied supply base at Balaklava at the end of October 1854, the Commander-in-Chief issued one of the most quoted orders in English military history: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance quickly to the front. Follow the enemy and try to prevent him from taking away the guns.” It was left to General Lord Lucan to clarify on which front to advance and which guns to save from being taken away.

The following death ride of the Light Brigade at Balaklava is considered, depending on your perspective, as a heroic sacrifice, the swan song of the age of cavalry attacks or the greatest blunder of a British general in the 19th century. Alfred Tennyson's poem "The Attack of the Light Brigade" became a patriotic confession, and Theodor Fontane's translation of the episode also made it known in German-speaking countries.

Still, Raglan retained his command. Russell's and other reports, however, built up pressure on the English public that at least the chaos in care and wound care was addressed. Its most prominent victim was Raglan himself. In June 1855 he fell ill with dysentery and died within a few days of "exhaustion due to diarrhea and mental grief", as it was said.

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