Drake Letters Index 71. Examination of W. H. Drake 30 March 1855 ◄ ● ► 73. Hampshire Telegraph 9 June 1855
The Drake Letters
The Times (London), 7 June 1855: The Kertch Expedition


It will not be in my power to do more than announce the complete success of the expedition up to the present date, and the reduction of the forts and flight of the garrison, without loss on our side. For some time back it was believed that General Canrobert had incurred the serious displeasure of his Imperial master for the check given to the first expedition, which was laid to his door, and it was understood that General Pellissier would inaugurate his command by some very decisive coup. On Monday the principal officers received orders to hold themselves in readiness to embark on Tuesday, and it was no longer doubtful that an expedition was preparing against Kertch and against the Russians in the sea of Azoff. The command of the British contingent was conferred as before on Sir George Brown. It was intended that the 4th Dragoon Guards and 10th Hussars should accompany the troops, but the Lieutenant-General did not think it advisable to take so many cavalry, and accordingly only 50 Hussars of the 8th Royal Irish were detached for vidette and orderly duties. The troops consisted of the 42nd, 71st, and 93rd Regiments, and a portion of the 79th Regiment. It is said that the flank companies of the Guards are with the expedition, but I certainly have failed to discover the bearskins or white epaulettes on board any of the ships. They were, however, ordered to hold themselves in readiness when I embarked. Major Barker was placed in command of the artillery, and 5,000 Turks were put on board our ships at Kamiesch, together with a great quantity of trenching tools. It is not unlikely that the Turks will entrench themselves in Kertch, and that a number of our smaller men-of-war will be left to cover them. No one ever doubted of the success of the expediton for a moment, and the greatest anxiety was evinced to get attached to it in some way or other, though it was known our troops before Sebastopol would be very likely to make a forward movement in a day or two towards the Tchernaya.
On Tuesday evening (22nd) the Gladiator, Stromboli, Sidon, Valorous, Oberon, and Ardent came round and anchored off the harbour of Balaklava, and the Warcloud sailing transport, with a party of the 8th Royal Irish, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel de Salis, and several others, hauled outside, where they remained till Wednesday morning. Several of the men-of-war went away to the eastward in the course of the night. The Bahiana (Captain Greene), with Dr. Alexander, Principal Medical Officer in charge of the expedition, Captain Hassard, R.E., Lieutenant Anderson, R.E., Mr. Fenton, the photographic artist, Mr. Cockburn, medical staff, the Rev. Mr. Butler (brother to the Butlers who fell at Silistria and at Inkermann), chaplain to the expedition, &c., went out at 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning, and was followed by the Hope (Captain Bowen), with the officers of the Commissariat Staff, Mr. Drake, Assistant Commissary General (in charge), Mr. Cumming, Mr. Moore, Mr. Booth, Deputy Assistant Commissary Generals, &c. The Trent, Captain Ponsonby, with mules, &c., the Whitby Park, the London, the Mairiner, the William Jackson, sailing transports, formed portion of the vessels. Commander Hoseason was in charge, and Lieutenant Geary second in command of the transports of the expedition. The Caradoc, Commander Derriman, left later in the day, and gave a kindly tow to the Royal Yacht Squadron cutter Stella as far as Cape Elken Kaya, where she was cast off with a light beating breeze. Lord Ward’s steam yacht London weighed anchor still later, and ran from Balaklava to the eastward about noon, but her speed soon enabled her to make up for lost time. The masters of the merchantmen received a sealed rendezvous from Captain Heath, which was to be opened only in case they parted company or did not find the fleet. It was the same as on the last occasion, namely, lat. 45° 54', long. 36° 28'. As we started out past Cape Aia, we saw a group of Cossacks perched on the stupendous cliff above us, looking down at the flotilla. There was not much to note on the voyage, and whatever did occur must be reserved for the present, as I have neither time nor favourable opportunity for describing it. The day was most favourable, the sea as smooth as a mirror. The general rendezvous was fixed at 3 a.m. on Thursday morning (24th), and orders were given that if vessels were too late to reach it by that time they were to make for the Straits of Kertch. We were unfortunate enough not to arrive in time, and the Captain, seeing that it would be useless to make for the rendezvous, steered right for the Straits. We approached Cape Takli, which marks the western extremity of the land at the straits. At half-past 10 o’clock a thick black smoke was visible, floating in the horizon towards the northward, sufficiently indicating the position of the fleet. As the vessel proceeded on her course, passing through the straits, which are about seven and a half or eight miles broad at the entrance, a group of people could be made out in the balcony of the lighthouse at Cape Takli, and a few wandering Cossacks were galloping through the meadows, half concealed by the rich rank grass. A few poor houses were scattered here and there over the expance of rich green, which was freshened into extreme verdure and intensity of colouring by the salt marshes, which penetrated the sea bank of clay, and ran into the sea from the level land behind. The tops of the ridges which intersect the level land on the western sides of the straits are covered with tumuli, large and small – most of them very sharp and well defined. On approaching Kara Burnu it was evident that our vessels were engaged with the forts and earthworks at Pavlovakaya, which guards the entrance to Kertch and Yenikale. Frequent puffs of white smoke, followed by faint echoes and booming reports, which rolled heavily along the shore, told us that the contest was tolerably smart, but it certainly did not last very long, for at 1.40 a huge pillar of white smoke rushed up towards the skies, opened out like a gigantic balloon, and then a roar like the first burst of a thunder-storm told us that a magazine had blown up. The action grew slacker, the firing less frequent. At 2.15 another load explosion took place, and a prodigious quantity of earth was thrown up into the air along with the smoke. A third magazine was blown up at 2.25; a tremendous explosion, which seemed to shake the sea and air, took place about 3 o’clock, and at 3.30 three several columns of smoke blending into one, and as many explosions, the echoes of which roared and thundered away together, announced that the Russians were beaten from their guns, and that they were destroying their magazines. They could be seen retreating, some over the hills behind Kertch, others towards Yenikale. The allied troops commenced disembarking at once, and the boats of the fleet were ordered out and landed them on the beach between the Salt Lake, north of Cape Kamusch Burnu, and the cliff of Ambalaki, a hamlet on the hill-side in the little bay between Kamusch and Pavlovakaya Battery. The heavy steamers lay outside. The transports were anchored off the Salt Lake to the south, and the gunboats and lighter steamers lay off the smoking ruins of the Russian earthworks. As we passed slowly through the fleet I could make out the Royal Albert, the Princess Royal, the Agamemnon, the Algiers, the St. Jean d’Acre, the Hannibal, the Malacoa, the Terrible, the Sidon, the Highflyer, the Tribune, the Vesuvius, the Medina, the Beagle, the Viper, &c., the transports Trent, Europa, Warcloud, Bahiana, St. Hilda, Mariner, William Jackson, &c. The French men-of-war – Napoleon, Montebello, Phlegeton, Primauguet, Pomono, Mogador, Asmodée, Caffarelli, Ulloa, Roland, Berthollet, Calliope, &c. Sir E. Lyons and Admiral Stewart were on board the Vesuvius, and Sir George Brown, after seeing the troops landed, went on board and held a conference with them. As we anchored a most exciting scene was taking place towards the westward. One of the enemy’s steamers had run out of the Bay of Kertch, which was concealed from our view by the headland on which Pavlovakaya and the battery of Cape Burnu are situated, and was running as hard as she could for the Straits of Yenikale. She was a low schooner-rigged-craft, like a man-of-war, and for a long time it was uncertain whether she was a Government vessel or not. The gun-boat dashed after her across the shallows, and, just as she passed the cape, two Russian merchantmen slipped out and made towards Yenikale alos. At the same moment a fine roomy schooner came bowling down with a fair breeze from Yenikale, evidently intending to aid her consort and despising very likely the little antagonist which pursued her. The gun-boat flew on and passed the first merchantman, at which she fired a shot by way of making her bring to. The forts at Kertch instantly opened and shot after shot splashed up the water near the gun-boat, which still kept intrepidly on her way. As the man-of-war schooner bowled down towards the Russian steamer the altter gained courage, slackened her speed, and lay-to, as if to engage her enemy. A sheet of flame and smoke rushed from the gun-boat’s side, and her shot flying over the Russian tossed up a pillar of water far beyond her. Alarmed at this taste of her opponent’s quality and by the sudden intimation of her tremendous armament the Russian at once took to flight, and the schooner wore and bore away for Yenikale again with the gun-boat after them. Off the narrow straits between Yenikale and the sand-bank, which runs across from the opposite land, a great number of gunboats and small craft were visible, and as the English gunboat ran up towards them a Russian battery opened on her from the spit on which the town is situate. One of her consorts, however, which had followed her early in the chase, was now close at hand, and the gunboats dashed at their enemies, which tackec, wore, and ran in all directions, while the gunboats chased them as a couple of hawks would harry a flock of larks. The action with the forts became very sharp, and the Russian forts on the sandbank began to take part in the unequal contest. Sir Edmund Lyons, however, soon sent off the light steamers and disposable gunboats to reinforce the two hardy little fellows, and the French steamers also rushed up to the rescue. The batteries on the sandbank were not silenced without some trouble, but at last they blew up their magazines, and the fort of Yenikale followed their example. The gunboats kept up a running fight along the coast till it was dark. At about half-past 6 o’clock the batteries in the Bay of Kertch ceased firing, the Russians blew up their works and abandoned the town. Dark pillars of smoke, tinged at the base with flame, began to shoot up all over the hill sides. Some of them rose from the Government houses and stores of Ambalaki, where we landed, which were set on fire; others from isolated houses further inland; others from stores which the retreating Russians must have destroyed in their flight. Constant explosions shook the air, and single guns sounded here and there continuously throughout the night. Constant explosions shook the air, and single guns sounded here and there continuously throughout the night. Here a ship lay blazing on a sandbank on the left; a farm-house in flames lighted up the sky on the right, and obscured the pale moon with volumes of inky smoke. All the troops whose services were required were landed at Ambalaki ere dusk, and bivouacked on the ridge about it. Each of our men landed with two days’ provisions, but without rum; some of them carried their tents. A small body of Russian cavalry, with two guns, made a reconnaissance of them, from a considerable distance, ere evening, but did not attempt to interfere with their proceedings, and the men set to work to enjoy themselves in Ambalaki and its neighbourhood as well as they could. The French had, however, nearly all the fun to themselves, and our men, as they came down for water to the brackish springs by the sea-shore, grumbled audibly at the precautions which seemed taken for the express purpose of securing everything to the French and Turks. The bulk of the inhabitants had fled, but a few Tartars gave themselves up and received protection. A respectable Russian family, in a very comfortable house a little way from the sea, seemed inclined to follow the same course at first, but terrified probably by the fires around them, they left ere night set in. The enemy did not show in our neighbourhood, and it was reported that all their troops had abandoned both Kertch and Yenikale, and had marched towards the interior. Our cavalry pickets and videttes were not, I believe, disturbed till morning, nor could they see anything of the enemy, who had evidently been greatly disheartened, and had retreated with much precipitation. As there was nothing to be done at sea, the ships being brought to anchor far south of the scene of action with the gunboats, which still continued, it was resolved to pay a visit to the uninteresting land in our vicinity, and to land at the nearest spot, which was about one mile and a half or two miles from Pavlovakaya Battery. A row of half a mile brought us from our anchorage where the ship laid, in three fathoms, to a beautiful shelving beach, which was exposed, however, only for a few yards, as the rich sward grew close to the brink of the tideless sea. The water at the shore, unaffected by the current, was clear, and it was evident that it abounded in fish. The land rose abruptly, to a ridge parallel to the line of the sea, about 100 feet in height, and the interval between the shore and the ridge was dotted with houses, in patches here and there, through which the French were already running riot, charging down the hill, breaking in doors, pursuing hens, smashing windows – in fact, “plundering,” in which they were assisted by all our men who could get away. Towards the Salt Lake some large houses were already in flames, and store-houses were blazing fiercely in the last throes of fire. On the ridge above us the figures of the French and English soldiers, moving about against the horizon, stood sharply out, lighted up by the rays of the setting sun. The Highlanders, in little parties, sought about for water, or took a stray peep after a “bit keepsake” in the houses on their way to the wells, but the French were ever before them, and great was the grumbling at the comparative licence allowed to our allies. The houses were clean outside and in – whitewashed neatly, and provided with small well-glazed windows, which were barely adequate, however, to light up the two rooms of which each dwelling consisted, but the heavy sour smell inside was most oppressive and disagreeable; it seemed to proceed from the bags of black bread and vessels of fish oil which were found in every cabin. Each dwelling had out-houses, stables for cattle, pens, bakeries, and rude agricultural implements outside. The ploughs were admirably described by Virgil, and a reference to Adams’ Antiquities will save me a world of trouble in satisfying the curiosity of the farming interest at home. The furniture was all smashed to pieces; the hens and ducks, captives to the bow and spear of the Gaul, were cackling and quacking piteously as they were carried off in blundles from their homes by Zouaves and Chasseurs. Every house we entered was ransacked, and every cupboard had a pair of red breeches sticking out of it, and a blue coat inside of it. Vessels of stinking oil, bags of sour bread, casks of flour or ham, wretched clothing, old boots, beds ripped up for treasure, the hideous pictures of saints on panelling or paper which adorn every cottage, with lamps suspended before them, were lying on the floors. Dróles dressed themselves in faded pieces of calico dresses or aged finery laying perdu in old drawers, and danced about the gardens. One house, which had been occupied as a guard-house, and was marked on a board over the door “No. 7 Kardone,” was a scene of especial confusion. Its inmates had evidently fled in great disorder, for their great coats and uniform jackets still lay on the floors, and bags of the black bread filled every corner, as well as an incredible quantity of old boots. A French soldier, who in his indignation at not finding anything of value, had with great wrath devastated the scanty and nasty-looking furniture, was informing his comrades outside of the atrocities which had been committed, and added, with the most amusing air of virtue in the world, “Ah, Messieurs, Messieurs! ces brigands, ils ont voiés tout!” No doubt he had settled honourably with the proprietor of a large bundle of living poultry, which hung panting over his shoulders, and which were offered to us on very reasonable terms. Notwithstanding the great richness of the land, little had been done by man to avail himself of its productiveness. I never in my life saw such quantities of weeds or productions of such inexorable ferocity towards pantaloons, or such eccentric flowers of such huge dimensions, as the ground outside these cottages bore. The inhabitants were evidently graziers rather than agriculturists. Around every house were piles of a substance like peat, which is made, we were informed, from the dung of cattle, and is used as fuel. The cattle, however, had been all driven away. None were taken that I saw, though the quantity must have been very great which fed in the fields around. Poulty and ducks were, however, captured in abundance, and a party of Chasseurs, who had taken a huge wild-looking boar, were in high delight at their fortune, and soon despatched and cut him up in to junks with their swords. There were some 30 or 40 hourses scattered about the ridge, but all were pretty much alike. The smell was equally disagreeable in all, in spite of whitewash, and we were glad to return form a place which a soldier of the 71st said “A Glasgae beggar wad na tak a gift of.”
The French moved off from the bivouac at 6 o’clock this morning, but their advanced guard started some hours earlier. They took the road towards Kertch, going to the northward, and not following the sea coast line. Our troops, consisting of the 42nd, 79th, 93rd, and 71st Regiments, Barker’s battery, and 50 of the 8th Hussars, under Lieutenant-Colonel de Salis, preceded them on the right in the same direction, and the Turks seemed to form the rear and left of the line. Sir George Brown commanded our contingent. The main body of the fleet remained at anchor off Ambalaki, but the gun-boats were busy from day-break in chasing various Russian craft over the flats about Yenikale, and in silencing the batteries built on a sandbank running out from the mainland of Taman, on the east, towards the Cape of Ak Burnu. In this object they seemed to succeed completely, for not a shot has been heard since a quarter-past 10 o’clock up to this moment (11.25) at which I am writing. The Admiral is on board the Banshee, waiting impatiently for the intimation from Sir George Brown that the troops are in Kertch and Yenikale, and that the light vessels are to advance; and the Highflyer has been sent forward half way to Ak Burnu apparently as a repeating ship. Several prizes have been towed down alongside us, but they are only small 50 or 70 ton schooners. One large vessel north of the Joujnaya Bank has been burning all night. The shore batteries are silent, and from one great explosion which took place about half-past 10 o’clock a.m. on the bank it may be inferred that the Russians have abandoned them, and blown up their magazines. There is no sign of an enemy in any direction now. All the small gun-boats and trading vessels between Kertch and Yenikale must become prizes to the gun-boats, for there is not a breath of wind, and the day is intensely hot. It is probable that the Russian steamers may have succeeded in towing some of the merchantmen into the Sea of Azoff while our gun-boats were threading their way and sounding over the banks. The men will I fear suffer intensely from thirst on their march, as water is neither good nor abundant on the route, and they have no rum. In consequence of the rapidity of their march the spirits could not be landed in time, and the Commissary officers were ordered to remain on board the Hope till Sir Edmund Lyons received intelligence from Sir George Brown that the squadron might advance to Kertch. All the water in the soldiers’ canteen must be brackish and unwholesome. In this brief preliminary account of the expedition there will be found nothing more than a record of appearances, for up to the present time I have had no opportunity of knowing what really took place, and have had no communication with any one who was engaged with the enemy. It is probable I may be able to furnish some particulars ere the post is despatched from the fleet.
12 O’CLOCK.  
Sir Edmund Lyons has just weighed in the Banshee, and is standing towards Kertch. The greater number of the men-of-war steamers are following him. There can be no doubt but that the Alies are in Kertch; Yenikale will soon share the same fate. The official desptches will not only anticipate this meagre letter, but will in all probability contain much more exact and interesting intelligence. The large vessels and line-of-battle ships remain anchored of Ambalaki.
The columns of the allied troops are now visible advancing over the hill on which Yenikale is situate. Kertch has therefore fallen without a blow. We are now masters of the Sea of Azoff, and Anapa and Taganrog must fall when we please. The garrison of Sebastopol is deprived of the chief source of its supplies, and the army of Asia and of the Caucasus can no longer send it reinforcements or provisions by way of the Sea of Azoff. All the light vessels have pushed on into the Sea of Azoff. The troops are now encamping outside Yenikale. Kertch is almost untouched. It is a very fine looking place form the sea. The Austrian flag is flying in front of one of the principal rows of buildings visible from the sea. The completeness of our victory is more and more apparent every moment. As we passed Pavlovakaya and the battery at Cape ak Burnu, we could observe a considerable number of large guns still in position, and they, as well as the guns of the Kertch and Yenikale batteries, are in our hands. The boats of the fleet are busy all along the coast. The loss on our side is said to be insignificant, but up to this moment (3 o’clock) we have held no communication with any of the ships.
[The Kertch Expedition. (FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.).  The Times (London, England), Thursday, Jun 07, 1855; pg. 6; Issue 22074.]
Drake Letters Index 71. Examination of W. H. Drake 30 March 1855 ◄ ● ► 73. Hampshire Telegraph 9 June 1855