Battlefield Tour, April 2001


   As you may know, between 1853 and 1856, after almost 40 years of peace in the region there was an extensive war going on in Europe and Asia Minor. Most of the fighting took place on the Crimean Peninsula on the North shore of the Black Sea. Initially, Russia and Turkey were the combatants, but by 1854 England and France had joined Turkey against Russia, and later Sardinia joined the “Allies”. For a more extensive account of the war, go to Combatants, a Brief Overview, or Chronology

   Allow me to walk you through my April, 2001 trip to that area. After spending three fantastic days in England and flying to Athens, I boarded an excursion liner in Piraeus. On April 21 we made our way to Canakkale, Turkey (a voyage of 245 nautical miles) where, after leaving the ship and gaggle of tourists, a compatriot and I made our way East of town for about eight miles to what was in 1856 a British convalescent hospital. Generally unknown today, it was exciting to see the site and know that we were at an almost unknown historical place. The next day, we disembarked at Varna, Bulgaria (260nm from Canakkale) and visited the areas in which the French and British armies encamped while their leaders decided what to do.

   Up to this point, we had very little interface with immigration in Greece or Turkey, and absolutely none in Bulgaria. However, this was to change when we docked in Odessa. After a trip of 244 nm, we arrived at 1300 hours on 23 April to be immediately greeted by a loud band, and a swarm of “immigration” officers. Setting up a table next to the ship’s starboard exit, they began to go through the ship’s manifest, and singled out one passenger of whom they were not happy to see.  This poor chap was detained on board for four days, and did not receive his passport back until we were leaving Yalta. 

   During our stay in Ukraine, we were under the protection of immigration officers. They have learned well, and are  an exact copy of the enforcement staff that I met in the Soviet Union years ago. After spending one afternoon in Odessa, we weighed anchor for Sevastopol, and a voyage of 165nm. Arriving at 0800 hours on 24 April, we disembarked for various historic places. As I was the only passenger carrying an American passport, I encountered a delay of ten minutes or more while the immigration officer totally checked my credentials about six times, and then checked a list of undesirables. Not finding my name listed, I was finally free to leave the ship. To my knowledge, other than the one passenger and me, no one else was detained long at the “table”. 

   While in Sebastopol, we visited a number of bastions, including the Makakov, and a simply wonderful museum. The Defense of Sebastopol Panorama Museum 1854-1855 is circular in shape, approximately 118 feet in diameter, and equally as tall.  Upon entering, one climbs a set of steps to a second level. This level is about one floor above the entrance, and is also circular and covers about a half of the total area inside the building. After one’s eyes become accustomed to the lighting, one notices a mural painted on the far wall, in a panoramic view. Between the mural and the level on which we stood was an area filled with objects that one would expect to find in a fortress that is being attacked. Our vantage point was as if we were standing in the center of Sevastopol, and everywhere we turned we saw carnage, death, heroism, and the stoic pride of the Russian soldier, and civilians.

   The realistic scenes included cannon, shells, defensive positions, bunkers, muskets, fire pits, bodies, wagons, etc., everywhere we looked. What made this museum so memorable was the fact that one could not determine were the actual third dimension stopped and the painted scenes began. For example, an actual wagon is shown being pulled by two painted horse. The horses have just been frightened by an exploding shell and are obviously scared. The scene is so realistic because one cannot determine where the painted horses begin and the wagon stops. Breathtaking is the only word to describe the entire panorama.

   While in and around Sebastopol, we visited the Valley of Death, where the Light Brigade galloped to fame, and death. I stood where Lord Raglan stood when the charge happened; we visited the monument to the Heavy Brigade, who along with the Thin Red Line, were the real heroes of the battle; we visited Inkerman which was the scene of the bloodiest hand-to-hand until WWI; and, finally we arrived at Balaklava. The little seaport has changed, but the outline made so famous by Roger Fenton is still evident. That night we left Sebastopol and made a short voyage to Yalta. 

   On my last day in the Crimea, 26 April, a group of British and Ukrainian historians separated from the rest of the passengers for a trip from Yalta to the River Alma, northwest of Sebastopol.  It was at the Alma where the first land battle for Sebastopol occurred. We  stood on the Russian left flank where they fought the French and where they faced the combined Allied fleet, and then I went down near the river and walked inland.  After crossing the river, we walked to the British sector that was the left flank of the Allied army.  We crossed the river in the area where the 23d Foot advanced toward the Great Redoubt.  Up the slope we walked, all the while  I was thinking of what had happened there years before.  This area has not changed much in 147 years, and I almost saw the elephant.  I knew that he was near.  It was on this spot, in September of 1854, that Sergeant Luke O'Connor, 23d Foot, was the first man of the Army to perform an action subsequently rewarded with the Victoria Cross.

   We left Ukraine, after discharging our “immigration” officers and their table, and headed by sea to Istanbul, a voyage of 320 nm.  Arriving at 1700 hours on 27 April, we did a little sightseeing before returning to the ship.  The next day, my British friend and I took the ferry across the Hellispont and visited the British cemetery in Üsküdar in what was then called Scutari.  The hospital that Florence Nightingale founded still exists, but it is a Turkish military barracks now, so entry to that historic site was forbidden to us.  Leaving hot and crowded Istanbul at 1700 hours on 28 April, we set course for Küsadasi, Turkey which we visited for a few hours before again weighing anchor for Piraeus, then to the Acropolis in Athens, a flight to Gatwick, an overnight stay in nearby Horley, and a flight home on May Day to my wife, Peggy, who had been so very wonderful in encouraging me to go. 

   It was an incredible experience, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I understand better now what happened there, and how difficult it must have been for the soldiers, officers and rank, of both armies. In all places, I was treated exceptionally well by the common people of Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. May God grant all of them a better life in the future.

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