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Battle of Malakoff
Part of the Crimean War
William Simpson - Attack on the Malakoff.jpg
Attack on the Malakoff by William Simpson, published shortly after the battle.
Date7 September 1855
LocationSevastopol, present-day Ukraine
Result Decisive French victory
France French Empire Russia Russian Empire
Flag of the First Bulgarian Legion, 1862 Bulgarian Legion[citation needed]
Commanders and leaders
France General MacMahon Russia Pavel Nakhimov
Russia Vladimir Istomin
Russia Vladimir Kornilov
Casualties and losses
10,000 casualties[citation needed] 13,000 casualties[citation needed]

The Taking of Malakoff by Horace Vernet. A British officer salutes the French flag.

Detail of Franz Roubaud's panoramic painting (1904).

Attack by General Mayran's Division on Works near the Malakoff. George Dodd. Pictorial history of the Russian war 1854–56

The Battle of Malakoff was a major battle during the Crimean War, fought between French-British forces against Russia on 7 September 1855 as a part of the Siege of Sevastopol. The French army under General MacMahon successfully stormed the Malakoff redoubt, whereas a simultaneous British attack on the Redan to the south of the Malakoff was repulsed. In one of the war's defining moments, the French zouave Eugène Libaut raised the French flag on the top of the Russian redoubt. The Battle of Malakoff resulted in the fall of Sevastopol on 9 September, bringing the 11-month siege to an end.


Until 1784 most of the fortifications around Sevastopol were dedicated to the protection of the harbour entrance, the city itself and its naval base and were positioned close to these features. The construction of fortifications in the surrounding hills had been planned as early as 1837, but at the time of the battle only basic facilities and roadways had been completed on the north side of the long bay. To the south the central anchor of the defence system was the Malakoff-Kurgan ridge. Situated about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) southeast of the city, it consisted of a two-story stone tower of limestone on which the Russians had placed five heavy 18-pounder cannons at the beginning of the siege. There is some mystery surrounding this tower. Although it is known that the tower was built some time before the start of the war, the historical records do not show exactly when this occurred, and no mention of this is made in the contemporary descriptions of the siege itself. Additionally, there are different spellings and translations into or from Russian, including Малахова башня. What is known is that the tower was originally built or expanded by Sevastopol merchants and then later taken over by the Russian Navy. The tower had a diameter of about 14–15 metres (46–49 ft) and a height of 8 metres (26 ft). In its centre the battery known as "Lunette Kamchatka" was placed. This was a smaller fortification that was designed to protect several artillery pieces.

At this time the Russian cartographers marked all landmarks in and around this ridge as "Fort Malakoff". This included several large grave mounds and the same ridge lying in front known as Mamelon ("vert Mamelon"). The name "Fortmortal Malakoff" (or French "Fort Malakoff") was retained after the war in Western literature covering the Crimean War.

The harbour of Sevastopol, formed by the estuary of the Chernaya, was protected against attack by sea not only by the Russian war-vessels, afloat and sunken, but also by heavy granite forts on the south side and by the defensive works. For the town itself and the Karabelnaya suburb the plans for the works had been laid down for years. The Malakoff Tower covered the suburb, flanked on either side by the Redan and the Little Redan. The town was covered by a line of works marked by a flagstaff and central bastions, and separated from the Redan by the inner harbour.

Lieutenant Colonel Eduard Totleben, the Russian chief engineer, had began work on these sites early in the war. Through daily efforts to rebuild, re-arm and improve the fortifications, he was able to finally connect them with a continuous defence system enceinte. Yet early in October 1854, Sevastopol was not the towering fortress it later became, and Totleben himself maintained that had the allies assaulted it immediately, they would have succeeded in taking the city. There were, however, many reasons against them doing so at the time, and it was not until 17 October that the first attack took place.


Throughout 17 October, a tremendous artillery duel raged. The Russian artillery was initially successful, the French corps fell under siege and suffered heavy losses. The advancing fleet engaging the harbour batteries also suffered a loss of 500 men and several ships were heavily damaged. Still, British siege batteries managed to silence the Malakoff and its annexes, after having succeeded in hitting a munitions depot and, if failure had not occurred at the other points of attack, an assault might have succeeded. As it was, by daybreak, Totleben's engineers had repaired and improved the damaged works.

For months the siege of Sevastopol continued. During July the Russians lost on an average of 250 men a day, and finally the Russians decided to break the stalemate and gradual attrition of their army. Gorchakov and the field army were to make another attack at the Chernaya, the first since the Inkerman. On 16 August, both Pavel Liprandi and Read's corps furiously attacked the 37,000 French and Sardinian troops on the heights above Traktir Bridge. The assailants came on with the greatest determination, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. At the end of the day, the Russians drew off leaving 260 officers and 8,000 men dead or dying on the field; the French and British only lost 1,700. With this defeat the last chance of saving Sevastopol vanished. The same day, a determined bombardment once more reduced the Malakoff and its dependencies to impotence, and it was with absolute confidence in the result that Marshal Pélissier planned the final assault. At noon on 8 September 1855, the whole of Bosquet's corps suddenly swarmed up to the Malakoff. The fighting was of the most desperate kind: every casemate and every traverse was taken and retaken time after time as each side attacked and counterattacked, but ultimately the French maintained the prize, and though the British attack on the Redan failed, with the fall of the Malakoff, the Russian positions around the city came into range of the French siege guns.

Even on the far left, at the opposite flagstaff and central bastions, there was severe hand-to-hand fighting. Throughout the day the bombardment mowed down the massed Russian soldiers along the whole line. The fall of the Malakoff was the end of the siege of the city. That night the Russians filed over the bridges to the north side, and on 9 September the victors took possession of the empty and burning city. The losses in the last assault had been very heavy: for the Allies over 10,000 men, for the Russians 13,000. At least nineteen generals had fallen on the final day and with the capture of Sevastopol the war was decided. No serious operations were undertaken against Gorchakov who, with the field army and the remnants of the garrison, held the heights at Mackenzie's Farm. But Kinburn was attacked by sea and, from the naval point of view, became the first instance of the employment of Ironclad warships. An armistice was agreed upon on 26 February and the Treaty of Paris was signed on 30 March 1856.


At first sight Russia would seem to be almost invulnerable to a sea power, and no first success, however crushing, could have humbled Nicholas I. Indeed the mere capture of Sevastopol would not have been strategically decisive. However, as the Tsar had decided to defend it at all costs and with unlimited resources, it became an unpleasant defeat, especially as the Allies had reached victory with limited resources.

During the nearly one-year siege of Sevastopol in the Crimean War, the fortifications on the Malakhov were hotly contested as they overlooked the whole city and the inner harbour. After the success of the French troops under the command of Marshal Pelissier, later the Duke of Malakoff (French: Duc de Malakoff), and General Patrice de Mac-Mahon, the Russian defenders evacuated the entire city on 8 September 1855, bringing a climax to the war.

As the fortress enabled the control of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, the Russian forces destroyed all of their equipment and withdrew, leaving Russia with no more military fortifications on the Black Sea. The long-awaited Russian domination of the inland sea to obtain free passage through the Bosporus to the Mediterranean (and beyond) was now not possible.

In terms of logistics, the British and French had a significant advantage over the Russians as they were able to receive supplies from the sea, while the Russians had to bring supplies over the underdeveloped and dangerous desert tracks of southern Russia. The Russians lost many men and horses in bringing supplies to Sevastopol. The hasty nature, too, of the fortifications, which were damaged every day during the siege by the fire of a thousand guns, and had to be rebuilt every night, required large, unprotected working parties and the losses amongst these were correspondingly heavy. These losses exhausted Russia's resources and when they were forced to employ large bodies of militia in the battle of Traktir Bridge, it was obvious that the end was at hand. The short stories of Leo Tolstoy, who was present at the siege, give a graphic picture of the war from the Russian point of view, portraying the miseries of the desert march, the still greater miseries of life in the casemates, and the almost daily ordeal of manning the lines, under shell-fire, against an assault which might or might not come.

Among the seven surviving defenders of a stone tower on the Malakov Kurgan, which were found by French troops among the dead, was the seriously wounded Vasily Kolchak, the father of Aleksandr Vasiliyevich Kolchak. Kolchak would later become the head of all the counter-revolutionary anti-communist White forces during the Russian Civil War.

As a result of press coverage of the siege of the tower, Malakhov Kurgan became a household name in Europe and many large and expensive towers in Western Europe were named after it. Among these were a number of stone mining towers in the Ruhrgebiet, the so-called caponier Fort Malakoff in Mainz, and the yellow sandstone Malakoff Tower in the city of Luxembourg. In addition, the Malakoff cake was named after Duke of Malakoff, as was a cheese dish in parts of Switzerland. In France, the battle was officially commemorated in a rare way: apart from the Battle of Magenta (in the Italian Campaign), it was the only one of Emperor Napoleon III Bonaparte's exploits to result in the awarding of a victory title (both of ducal rank); this distinction was bestowed upon Marshal Pélissier. A suburb of Paris was also named after this battle, as well as the Avenue de Malakoff. Malakhov Kurgan, where it was fought, now contains the Eternal Fire, commemorating the Siege of Sevastopol (1942). A branch of Franz Roubaud's great panorama representing the battle of 1855 is also located there.


Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. Encyclopædia Britannica Cambridge University Press 

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