20 September 1854

British and French troops defeat Russians in Crimea in the Battle of Alma.

Coldstream-at-the-Alma

Battle of Alma, victory by the British and the French in the Crimean War that left the Russian naval base of Sevastopol vulnerable and endangered the entire Russian position in the war. It is generally considered the first battle of the Crimean War.

Commanded by Prince Aleksandr Menshikov, the Russians had occupied a position on the heights above the Alma River in southwestern Crimea, thus blocking the road to Sevastopol. In order to advance, the allied French and British army would have to assault Telegraph Hill, and to the east, Kourgane Hill, both of which were topped with Russian redoubts. The valley in between led to Sevastopol, but no advance would be possible, even with their numerical advantage, if the Russians held the two hills.

The allies landed on the Crimean Peninsula some 35 miles north of Sevastopol on September 14. Suffering from dysentery and cholera, it would be six days before the armies headed south. It was at the Alma, the second of the east-west rivers north of the Sevastopol, where they enjoyed a prime defensive position, that the Russians decided to stand their ground on September 20.

To attack the Russians, the French commander, General Jacques St. Arnaud, decided to cross the river under the cover of a naval bombardment and scale the cliffs with a detachment of French troops. This would divert the Russians and allow the British to attack the redoubts. The French part of the plan began successfully but lost momentum, and the Russians restored their lines. As a result, the British attack faltered and their battalions became entangled in chaos.