On 18 June 1855, four members of the Royal Engineers, were awarded VCs during the Crimean Campaign. They were Lt Gerald Graham, Lt Howard Elphinstone, Colour Sgt Peter Leitch and Pte John Perie.
During the siege of Sevastopol, the French and British command agreed that the Russian fortifications should be taken and secured. The French objective was the Malakoff Tower, with the British attack on the Redan supporting the advance.
Co-ordination between the French and British troops left something to be desired, and the result was that the Russians were ready, catching the French and British in heavy fire. In addition to this, the British faced a 450 yard advance against the Russian opposition and obstacles of ditches, branches and defences.
Three columns of Royal Engineers, Sappers and Miners, Navy and Infantry men attacked, although none achieved their aim. The first column came under such heavy fire that within five minutes they began the retreat. The second column made it to the parapet, but at the cost of so many lives, the remaining soldiers took what cover they could find. CSgt Leitch attempted to provide cover by taking material from the defences and parapets to create shelter for the men. His citation read: ‘For conspicuous gallantry in the assault on the Redan, when, after approaching it with the leading ladders, he formed a caponniere across the ditch, as well as a ramp, by fearlessly tearing down gabions from the parapet, and placing them and filling them until he was disabled from wounds.’
John Perie was chosen by Lt Graham to lead the sailors with the ladders needed to storm the walls of the Redan, as he showed enthusiasm for the change, and knew the terrain. His citation read: ‘Conspicuous valour in leading the sailors with the ladders to the storming of the Redan on 18 June 1855. He was invaluable on that day. Devoted conduct in rescuing a wounded man from the open, although he himself had just previously been wounded by a bullet in his side.’
Lts Graham and Elphinstone both carried out rescue missions after the unsuccessful attack, Lt Elphinstone’s citation crediting him with saving 20 men. Lt Graham’s citation read: ‘Determined gallantry at the head of the ladder-party, at the assault of the Redan, on 18 June 1855. Devoted heroism in sallying out of the trenches on numerous occasions, and bringing in wounded officers and men.’
Despite the high casualties, the Russian defenders also took heavy losses, and lost a further 8000 men in August. Although both sides were lacking in morale after the attacks, the British soon received extra siege companies of artillery, boosting their firepower and contribution to the eventual British win by attrition.
The Museum holds the VCs of Lt Graham, CSgt Leitch and Pte Perie. Lt Elphinstone’s is held by the Imperial War Museum.
Photograph shows an artist’s impression of the Redan. From ‘The Sapper VCs’ by G Napier.