It was probably the most famous blunder in British military history. In 1854, Britain, France and Turkey were fighting the Russians in the Crimean War. Early on October 25, the Russians began the Battle of Balaclava to try and break the allies’ fragile supply chain.
‘Two such fools could hardly be picked out of the British army,’ was one soldier’s verdict on the cavalry commanders, Lords Lucan and Cardigan, but it was a confused order by the commander-in-chief, Lord Raglan, that sent the Light Brigade, considered by many to be the finest light cavalry in the world, on a suicidal charge against Russian guns along the 'Valley of Death'.
Not only did the brigade have to endure fire from the guns they were attacking, there was also enemy artillery on either side of them. Thanks to their courage, they managed to capture a few of the guns, but they were soon driven off by the Russians’ superior numbers, and then all that was left was a painful retreat back through enemy gunfire.
Out of the 600 men who set off, 300 were killed, wounded or captured. After the charge, the battle petered out, but it had an important consequence – the British lost control of their main supply route, condemning them to a winter of shortage, sickness and death.