The Weekly Reflektion Week 50 / 2020

Good communication is often vital in an operational environment. As George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Charge of the Light Brigade by Richard Caton Woodville Jr.

Do you make sure your communication is clear and concise?

The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) was fought between an alliance of the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, France and Sardinia, against Russia. In the Battle of Balaclava on the 25thOctober 1854, Lord Raglan was in charge of the alliance army against the Russian forces at the other end of a valley, who had heavy artillery guns prepared for any attack.

On the heights on the south side of the valley, Russian forces were attempting to remove some captured Turkish artillery, and Raglan saw this and wanted to prevent the loss of these guns. He gave the order that the Light Brigade, a mounted cavalry unit, armed with sabres and lances, with the advantage of speed and mobility, should ride up to the heights and prevent the Russians removing the guns.

He sent a Captain down to the Light Brigade with the order to attack. James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who was in charge of the Light Brigade received the order to attack the guns. The Captain was asked to confirm which guns they were to attack as they could not see the captured guns from where they were. The Captain carrying the order indicated which guns to attack ‘with a wide sweep of his arm’, which Lord Lucan, in charge of all the cavalry forces, took to mean the main Russian guns over 1 km away down the valley. The order was given and the Light Brigade charged down the valley against the main Russian heavy guns where they were caught in a crossfire from the Russian forces on the heights on either side of the valley.

The Heavy Brigade, a more heavily armed branch of the cavalry were to ride in behind the Light Brigade to give them support, but seeing the devastation being caused by the Russian fire from 3 sides, did not enter the valley, leaving the Light Brigade to its fate.

670 men in the Light Brigade attacked the Russian guns, and within minutes, they had taken 278 casualties, 156 of whom were killed. An observer, the French Marshal Pierre Bosquet concerning the futility of the action and its reckless bravery stated,“It is magnificent, but it is not war.” 

In hazardous operations today, clear and concise communication can prevent incidents and fatalities. In investigations we perform we often identify poor communication as one of the causes. This incident highlights the importance of confirmation in communications, where a culture of repeating what the receiver understood the communication to be to ensure it was correctly understood is a good culture to encourage. A focus on good quality communication could prevent unsafe practices before they arise. Asking the right questions can ensure confirmation of what is being communicated. How conscious are you about how you communicate information and expectations in your business?

Reflekt AS