5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Dull battle, good book (but too long),
This review is from: Hell Riders: The Truth About the Charge of the Light Brigade (Paperback)
I wonder how many military actions there have been in the last couple of hundred years that lasted about 30 minutes and cost around 400 lives (around 200 British and presumably about the same on the Russian side)? Several hundred, I'd guess, maybe more, but The Charge of the Light Brigade (actually it was more of a trot until the last few yards) still holds the attention of the British public, and as I bought this book I can hardly stand above that! In my defence it is the first "Charge" book I have read, but how does an author make so little action last for 364 pages? That's nearly twelve pages per minute of actual action!
The answer is, by dividing the book into four parts.
The first part is probably the best and that is a very colourful and fast-moving account of the origins of the war, the politics involved, the preparations, voyage and landfall in Turkey, then Russia. If this sounds dull (it would have done to me) then don't be put off. The author writes with confidence but with a light touch; the level of detail is enough to understand and the colourful yet loathsome characters of Lucan and Cardigan give plenty of colour.
The second part of the book, bizarrely, is the actual charge/trot itself, told by editing together the first-hand accounts of the survivors and told minute-by-minute. This is ok, but the survivors' accounts are very similar to each other and I was left feeling if I had read one of them and maybe two I wouldn't have had to read the rest. Unlike, say, Waterloo, every man involved was on the same part of the field and experienced very similar things. I was also left slightly puzzled to be only halfway through the book with the main event already over.
The third part is a description of life for the cavalry after the charge and again for a novice like myself this was very interesting - although quite distressing if you have any love for horses (or humans, I suppose).
The final part of the book is devoted to a series of `controversies'. The most interesting is who was to blame (read it for yourself - I disagreed). Other `controversies' include whether Florence Nightingale was a better nurse than Mary Seacole, who sounded the charge, and murder. In other words it feels a lot like either self-indulgence on the part of the author or space-filling.
The maps were generally clear and helpful. Set against this I was really irritated by the title "Hell Riders" and the persistence with which the term "hell" was used, not because I am prudish or think it is blasphemous, but because the casualty rate really doesn't justify it. The pictures were fairly interesting but I would have been very interested to see some modern pictures of the ground. (There are one or two on the Flickr website, but nobody seems to quite know where the charge took place and it certainly looks very shallow for a valley.)
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Initial post: 7 Apr 2011 17:23:28 BDT
The charge of the Light Brigade was of course just part of the Battle of Balaclava. I've always wondered why there's been so little comment on the charge of the Heavy Brigade which occurred in the same battle, and which was a complete success! As for the charge being more of a trot for most of the way; that would presumably be due to the fact that they had to travel quite a distance before they reached the Russian positions. In fact they had to travel much further than they could have anticipated if ordered to charge during the course of the battle, which of course they were. If they'd been given clear orders to charge the actual objective intended, then they would've travelled much less distance and attacked a much smaller force - not the main force of the Russian army - which was not what their unclear orders intended. Additionally "winded" horses cannot charge very well; (an example of this occurred when the Scots Greys charged the French guns at Waterloo - they ended up unable to extricate themselves before being counter attacked by French/Polish Lancers and suffered for their Colonel's stupidity). This being akin to soldiers having to sprint to the enemy then (understandably) not having enough energy left to fight them. As for being annoyed by the title including the word "Hell", you may not have been if you'd actually had to take part in the event yourself; the adjective seems completely suitable to me when you think about what solid shot, canister and shell would do to a man and/or a horse. Additionally something that is often forgotten, or not even though of, is that the deafening noise of battle is not only very confusing; but also extremely frightening. As for the battle itself, it achieved what it was meant to achieve as far as the Anglo-French allies were concerned: it prevented the Russians from disrupting, or severing the allied supply lines for the siege at Sevastopol. I won't make any judgements about the rights and wrongs of the war, as my girlfriend is Ukrainian by nationality and Russian by blood!
In reply to an earlier post on 13 Apr 2011 20:10:07 BDT
Andrew Walker says:
Excellent points, David, thank you. But wow, considering I liked this book I feel like I'm taking quite a pasting for my review. I don't doubt it was hell to be in but I thought the author (or his publisher) was using it in a cheap way to get an eye-catching title and sell the book, which - to repeat again - is good enough not to need it. Thanks for your comment.
In reply to an earlier post on 11 Apr 2012 22:07:51 BDT
Point of order. By taking and holding the redoubts on Causeway Heights- the Light Brigade having miscarried, Raglan called off the infantry attack to retake them- the Russians prevented the British using the Woronzoff Road to bring supplies up to the siege lines before Sebastopol. this added to the misery of the troops and their animals both those on duty in the lines and those tasked with bringing supplies up the difficult alternative route. Until the Russians withdrew, that was disruption on no small scale.
It is true that the Ruassin attack on Balaklava was repelled and that the Light Brigade succeeded in their perceived mission of attacking and briefly silencing the battery in the North Valley. This was nullified, however, by Lucan's decision not to support the Light Brigade with the Heavy Brigade.
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